Both of them mine. If I had four thumbs, I'd give it three down.
I didn't see No Country when it was playing in the theaters and the critics were off their heads raving about it. (A quick check at the Rotten Tomatoes site shows it got a 95 percent "fresh" rating from the scribes.) I finally succumbed to curiosity and borrowed the DVD from Netflix. My home theater is pretty good, so I don't think I missed much by not seeing it on the big screen.
The Coen brothers' movies, with the partial exceptions of their first, Blood Simple, and Miller's Crossing, don't appeal to me. They represent most of what is objectionable about today's mass-market, high-budget, pseudo-independent films: lots of grisly violence; "irony" laid on with a trowel; knock-offs of that most tiresomely imitated style, film noir; and a constant striving for effects in lieu of meaning.
Plus pretentiousness. The title gives it away: a literary reference so well known that anyone who ever took an English literature class will get it, feel clever for getting it, and assume the film must be very deep.
Not to say the Brothers Coen aren't good technicians. They know atmosphere, their shots convey mood, they are skillful at the mechanics of suspense. And No Country, unlike most of their films, is well acted. Tommy Lee Jones is about as limited in range as any star I can think of — from perky Texas good-old-boys to (as here) tired and cynical Texas good-old-boys — but damn, he's good when the part fits him. Actors all say they hate type casting, but there's a reason for the practice: directors know perfectly well that most actors who can do Buffalo Bill can't do King Lear and vice versa; actors have their special abilities and liabilities, just like people in other professions.
Credit where due, Jones brings to No Country a welcome dimension of humanity, and that's no small accomplishment when you're working for a pair of cool dudes who are mainly interested in generating frissons. The Real Bad Guy, whose weapon of choice is a pneumatic shooter the movie suggests is the preferred method of dispaching cattle in the slaughterhouse, is played by Javier Bardem, an actor I've never seen before. The extravagant critical praise for him is unaccountable. He's creepy enough, there's nothing wrong with the performance, but it could have been handled by any reasonably talented actor with the right physical characteristics. To compare it with Anthony Hopkins's work in The Silence of the Lambs is absurd.
So much for the one thumb up. Otherwise, the movie is overwrought and under-thought. The Coens storyboard in terms of "big" scenes, but they're not good at filling in the spaces between, and they don't tie the high points together emotionally or in many cases even logically. Several characters are introduced — well, not really introduced, since we don't always understand who they're supposed to be — for a short-term purpose and then disposed of. For example, Woody Harrelson as some sort of criminal bounty hunter.
There's lots of blood, natch, and while technically it's integral to the plot (since there wouldn't be a plot without it), I rarely felt that it carried any weight beyond an immediate visceral shock. The world-weary dialogue and Jones's opening voice-over soliloquy are supposed to connect the gore with the decline of civilized standards and honor, and their replacement by uncaring savagery on the fringes of society. But a film that has to spell it out so blatantly, both in repetitious imagery and in canned poetry, is indicating rather than embodying its theme.