Joel and Ethan Coen have mastered the art of filmmaking many times over with their critically acclaimed films such as Fargo and O Brother, Where Art Thou? Each of their directorial and artistic choices map out screenplays and plot twists one could only identify as the Coen brothers.
In the film No Country for Old Men, many of these choices can be highlighted shot-by-shot. When viewing the Academy Award-winning film, it was interesting to be able to recognize certain camera techniques and types of shots from my reading of Jeremy Vineyar’s Setting Up Your Shots.
About half way through the film, a scene takes place between Llewelyn Moss and Anton Chigurh where in Chigurh is in pursuit of Moss in an effort to retrieve two million dollars of stolen drug money. Moss has just discovered the small tracking device Chigurh has used to find his location and has subsequently been waiting to pounce and ultimately kill Moss. Moss is now hiding in an alley after being shot at by Chigurh. It is the middle of the night.
Beginning at 1:02:13, there is a close up of Moss detailing his exhaustion, fear, and thought process of deterring Chigurh – a type of shot that often appears during the most intense moments of Moss’s escapes from certain death.
At 1:02:16, the camera gives a shot of multilayer action – a type of shot that allows for audiences to watch one scene occur in the foreground whilst another happens in around area of the screen – wherein Moss spots the only car driving down the street to flag down whilst the car enters the shot.
At 1:02:20, the short changes to landscape of the pavement of the street next to moss wherein the camera pans down and follows his feet as he walks in front of the car causing it to stop. This is an example of how proactive Moss is at finding ways to get out of sticky situations. This can also be described as a close up, giving a different view of the situation whilst building up suspense due to the fact we cannot see who is driving the car. (Could it be Chigurh?)
At 1:02:23, Moss succeeds to flag down the car and begins to open the door to the car. This is expressed in a layer shot which allows for a new angle and perspective from the person who is driving the car. Here, Moss takes a deep breath and tells the confused driver, “Don’t worry. I ain’t gonna hurt ya.” (It isn’t Chigurh)
There is a type of shot called a drawn in that illustrates how and why this entrance is depicted the way it is and will build suspense for what will take place for the next few seconds. This shot is a cinematic form of “compression” where two characters start at a distance from each other and the movement of one of the characters compresses the scene ending in a medium close up or a close up – in this case a close up showing the meeting of these two characters.
“If you could drive me on out of here,” states Moss at 1:02:28 right before, at 1:02:30, his driver is shot through the throat by an unseen gun. For the next 30 seconds, the cuts and shot edits amount to fast paced cut aways from different angles of the car while the unseen gunman, Chigurh, rattles off about thirty round into the vehicle. In an effort to avoid getting shot himself, during this time Moss proceeds to duck and push the gas pedal of the car propelling them forward.
Bullets are flying in through either windshield, shattering the glass and flinging shards into Moss’s face. Each is depicted via close ups and extreme close ups following the sound of each shot. These shots embody the ferocity and stealth-like nature of Chigurh juxtaposing the bulky, unclean fashion in which Moss goes about avoiding Chigurh.
At 1:02:57, the point of view changes within the shot, panning out of the car as it turns a corner and subsequently crashes into a parked car. This is very different from what we have been seeing given that it is all an interior shot – recording the action from outside the vehicle. At 1:02:10 to :13, Moss stumbles out of the car in a wide shot, reverting back to a medium close up. Moss then runs to hide behind another car. This signifies the next phase in this early morning battle between the two gunslingers.
This is only a fraction of the many shooting and editing techniques the Coen brothers used in this film. It goes to show that making a film is anything but easy!