Page to Screen: No Country for Old Men

Updated on September 22, 2016


Just to give you a heads up, I am not at all fond of the book of which this film is adapted. The film itself has earned quite a reputation for me with tales of an incredible villain in a vessel handled by the Coen Brothers. So, I read the book.

I hated it. No punctuation, written in heavy Texan drawls, and everything goes like a stream of consciousness. Dialogue begins out of nowhere without markings and it's difficult for me to follow (and worse for my eyes as I am a stickler for proper editing). A little daunted, I chose to watch the film regardless and finally found that story I was hoping for.

The film poster (strangely the left and right actor names should definitely be switched here).
The film poster (strangely the left and right actor names should definitely be switched here). | Source

The Book

Written by Cormac McCarthy in 2005, the original work follows several players after a man of little renown finds a drug deal gone bad, leaving everyone deal and a large sum of cash ripe for the taking. Unable to stop himself, he realizes what kind of hell will rain down on him and decides to beat the odds with Mexican drug traffickers and one psychopathic killer.

The Film

Adapted into a film only two years after the novel was published, this adaptation was written, directed, and edited by the Coen brothers. Staying very faithful to the original novel, it stars Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, and many others. It won four awards at the 80th Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (Bardem) and Best Adapted Screenplay.

The cover to Cormac McCarthy's novel
The cover to Cormac McCarthy's novel | Source

The Adaptation

The Mediums
Okay, obviously one's in written form and the other is a film. Moving past that, the delivery is monumentally different. Sure, the accents are still present but the dialogue is so minimalistic aside from certain key scenes. This film is far more visual than expositional, relying on character expressions and body language to carry out a lot of the meaning.

Carla Jean's Reaction
When faced with the relentless Chigurh, in the book Carla Jean breaks down in fear of her death, as almost any other human might. In the film, she goes into the scenario having already accept her fate. After having lost her husband to the Mexican cartel, her mother to cancer, and drowning in debt as she admits, it's really no surprise that she gives in so quickly.

How Llewelyn was Found
It's a small difference , but in the book Llewelyn and his wife Carla Jean are conversing on where they're going to meet. Unfortunately, the Mexican cartel are listening in and manage to find Llewelyn and kill him. In the film, the cartel discovers where Carla Jean and her mother are going (to meet with Llewelyn) by discussing with the very talkative mother and finding it out with a little sympathy.

Focus of Characters
The sheriff Ed Tom who is woefully behind the events as he attempts to save Llewelyn but serves as the main narrative focus in the story. In the film, his scenes are generally a neutral comparison but not nearly as vital as the screentime is more equally shared by all.

The Young Hitchhiker
One character is completely omitted from the film. As Llewelyn drives, he picks up a young female hitchhiker. Their relationship and conversation gives us some softer insight to Llewelyn who at this point has done nothing but survive by the skin of his teeth and aggressive tactics. The movie has no equivalent so Llewelyn has comparatively little for the viewer to sympathize with him other than his fear of death, especially after being unwilling to barter for his wife's life with the money and his own as more 'noble' protagonists would have.

Closing Comments

Understandably, the novel is written in a way that's extremely polarizing. You're either fine with it, or like me, you absolutely hate it. I found the novel hard to understand to the point where I needed to keep track of characters with extra resources or sparknote-equivalent medium. I liked the idea of the story and certain scenes and characters, but I struggled so much to properly visualize them I couldn't enjoy them.

Then I watched the Coen brothers' film and I loved it. There's a reason it got its awards, why Javier Bardem is given so much attention for his work as a villain. In my opinion, this film capitalizes on all the potential McCarthy's story has and presents it in a fantastic visual display. I don't know if I can recommend the book to anyone depending on my personal experience (yours might be different but I can only speak on my exposure), but so long as you're okay with a rated R film with intense scenes, then I cannot recommend this film enough.

Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh
Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh | Source

Book vs. Movie

For those of you who read the book and watched the movie, what did you prefer?

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Questions & Answers


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