The Antagonists of NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN: An Analysis
It’s challenging to find a more masterful film that features one of the greatest villains in film history than none other than No Country For Old Men. No Country for Old Men is a 2007 American neo-Western crime thriller film written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen.
The film is based on Cormac McCarthy's 2005 novel of the same name and stars Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, and Josh Brolin. It’s set in 1980 Texas and follows three main characters: Llewelyn Moss (Brolin), a Vietnam War veteran and welder who blunders upon a large sum of money in the desert; Anton Chigurh (Bardem), a mysterious and sociopathic hitman who is tasked with recovering the money; and Ed Tom Bell (Jones), a local sheriff investigating the crime.
Many argue that No Country For Old Men is the Coen brothers’ best work, primarily because of Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh. So, who are the antagonists of No Country For Old Men, and why is it such an excellent example of great characters? With this in mind, let’s examine the film’s antagonists and some of its key themes.
Still from 'No Country For Old Men'. Photo credit: Netflix Life
The Antihero in Llewelyn Moss
The film’s central protagonist is Llewelyn Moss, though many argue that Llewelyn is a true antihero. After all, Llewelyn’s decision to keep a briefcase filled with millions of dollars ended up costing him and his wife’s life later in the film. Though that isn’t revealed until the Third Act, it’s a reminder that greed, no matter how innocent the character is, can lead to grave consequences.
In the end, Llewelyn was his own worst enemy. Had he alerted authorities right away, left the money, or even just take a few bucks and left the rest, he most likely would’ve kept his life. He also had the opportunity to deal with Anton Chigurh later in the film, which would’ve saved his wife Carla Jean from being murdered by Chigurh.
Instead, Llewelyn constantly threw himself into harm’s way in an attempt to secure a lavish and secure lifestyle for him and his wife. In reality, who could blame Llewelyn? Practically every person in the world would keep that money for themselves if they could, even if it potentially meant death.
Anton Chigurh is a ruthless hitman primarily described as an unstoppable killing machine that feels unbreakable. Chigurh is a very mysterious figure, almost as if he’s a human embodiment of evil. His no remorse or compassion for human beings leads him to hunt down Llewelyn without caring about the consequences.
In the film, Chigurh is hired to retrieve the money Llewelyn stumbled upon, killing and betraying everyone in his patch. He eventually tracks Llewelyn down due to a tracker inside the money and kills a group of gangsters looking for Llewelyn. The motel scene is the first bit of conflict between the two, without seeing each other.
We’re introduced to Chigurh immediately in the film, where he chokes a police officer to death with his handcuffs. Chigurh’s sociopathic tendency is immediately drilled into our head, only for us to wonder if he could be stopped. By the end, Chigurh faces hardly any conflict from others, outside of a severe injury from a random car accident.
Although Carson Wells is a bounty hunter willing to do anything if the price is right, he still falls under the antagonist spectrum since he’s a part of the team that initially hired Chigurh to locate the money. Can Wells be trusted? We genuinely don’t know since Chigurh kills him so quickly.
As a character, Wells is a bounty hunter hired by American drug dealers to kill Anton Chigurh. Wells meets his fate very quickly, so we genuinely don’t get a deepened sense of how he is to the main protagonists of Llewelyn and Ed Tom Bell.
Man who Hires Wells
Besides the apparent antagonist in Chigurh, there is the broader antagonism of the American drug dealers that hired Chigurh. Although never given an official name, the man who hired Wells to take out Chigurh was the one who originally had Chigurh hired to track down Llewelyn. If the man knew better, he’d know not to work with psychotic sociopaths.
On top of American drug dealers and Chigurh, you have the cartel chasing after the money as well. Although Chigurh later recovers the money Llewelyn stole, the cartel is along the way, being involved in the death of Llewelyn, though we never know what happened.
Corruption, Greed, and Power
Many argue that Chigurh is solely fueled by his internal evil, forcing him to wipe out those in his path mercilessly. Besides Ed Tom Bell, practically every other character was driven by corruption, greed, and power. The theme of corruption and greed create an overarching status of great antagonists throughout the story.