MOVIE REVIEW- Cat 'n mouse: Coen brothers deliver a classic

Tommy Lee Jones must have the best job in the world. He can often commute to film sets from his San Antonio ranch, and he's able to embody a wide range of characters, usually without breaking a sweat. The camera loves his craggy face and audiences love his deadpan delivery.

No Country for Old Men was filmed in New Mexico, although it's set in Texas in 1980. Jones gets top billing but doesn't have to work too hard. He makes a couple of appearances early on to establish the character of Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, but mostly he stays in the background watching things play out until it's time for him to step in and clean up. Or not.

The movie pretty much belongs to Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh, the most cold-blooded killer this side of a horror movie. While he dispatches someone– or doesn't, depending on a coin toss– every few minutes, his real prey is the surprisingly resourceful Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin– who knew he could act?!!!).

Moss is hunting antelope when he happens on bigger game: the aftermath of a drug deal gone wrong, with several bodies, a large stash of "Mexican brown dope" and a briefcase containing $2 million. He takes the money and sends his wife (Kelly Macdonald) to visit her mother because he knows someone will come after it.

From then on it's a cat and mouse game with one tense scene after another, at least a couple of them classics. Things are complicated for a while by the presence of another cat, Carson Wells (Woody Harrelson), a mercenary hired to retrieve the money.

Through it all, Sheriff Bell is the top cat, although the others aren't aware of him. While he never utters the title phrase, he does lament the way the world is going to hell: "Once you quit hearin' ‘sir' and ‘ma'am' the rest is sure to follow." And that's in 1980. Imagine the way he'd feel today.

Adapted from Cormac McCarthy's novel by directors Joel and Ethan Coen, this is one of the brothers' very best films, certainly their most polished, replete with humor so dark it must be full of antioxidants.

That Chigurh is an invincible, unstoppable killing machine makes No Country for Old Men a slasher movie for grownups, but there's more to it than that. Though this picture isn't as comedic as Fargo, Chigurh may still be a walking woodchipper.

Maybe the supporting characters could do with fewer quirks, but the Coens like to let the smallest bit player have a moment in the spotlight. Besides writing, producing, and directing, the Coens edited under their usual pseudonym, Roderick Jaynes, and employed Roger Deakins, their cinematographer since Barton Fink, and composer Carter Burwell, who started with them on Blood Simple.

Has it really taken the Coen Brothers 23 years to go from Blood Simple to the blood complex of No Country for Old Men? They've given us some great movies along the way and may finally be about to get the recognition they deserve for this one. They're certainly due for a Midlife Achievement Award.