The border-land terrain of Cormac McCarthy’s novel No Country for Old Men is an emptiness of raw plains cratered with ancient calderas, where the manmade lines that mark legal boundaries are but lightly scratched in the earth and the contest between good and evil does not have a sure outcome.
In Joel and Ethan Coen’s minutely faithful film adaptation, in theaters in November, the barren landscape glowers with an almost mythological grandeur, less a backdrop than a physical presence to be reckoned with by the film’s macho acting trio of Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem and Josh Brolin. While shooting in the summer of 2006 near the small towns of Marfa, Texas, and Las Vegas, New Mexico, the set was haunted by violent storms that rumble in the film’s background like some cosmic tumult.
“That thunder is real,” says Bardem, who plays hired killer Anton Chigurh, an unstoppable reaper living by his own darkly rational principles. “We’d have 50-miles-per-hour wind come up out of f---ing nowhere,” adds Brolin, whose Llewelyn Moss becomes Chigurh’s target when he stumbles upon a suitcase of drug money and opts to keep it. “We’d have the dust devils come in, or it would rain like a monsoon for 10 minutes and then be gone.”
The Coen brothers are known to be exacting and scrupulously efficient on the set, but they hadn’t wanted overcast skies and had scheduled their shoots according to the weather forecast. “The reports were for blue sky,” Brolin says. “Obviously, it didn’t work out. And it ended up being amazing.”