These words are used by two different characters in the beginning of Joel and Ethan Coen’s latest film just before a gun goes off. The first speaker is sociopath Anton Chigurh—a man for whom the term hit-man may be a gross understatement-- who utilizes this request just before he dispatches his second of many victims that follow with a livestock air stun gun to the brain. The second character is cowboy Llewelyn Moss who makes the foolish mistake of greed, vanity and arrogant pride when he takes off with a satchel filled with two million dollars after he tracks an animal while hunting and stumbles upon the brutal remnants of a drug deal gone badly with most participants bathing in blood and west Texas sunlight. “Hold still” may be in the script but the action that follows it is anything but still and the brothers Coen may just as well have been talking to audience members who are now fully aware that they’ve unsuspectingly purchased tickets to one of the wildest western noirs in years and will just have to sit back for the ride.
Taking its title from W. B. Yeats’ poem “Sailing to Byzantium,” No Country for Old Men is based on Cormac McCarthy’s 2005 novel and although it’s old men whose values of past and melancholy remembrance of a time when sheriffs didn’t need to carry a gun is put at the forefront, they’re just one of the victimized groups in the movie alongside the younger men, women and animals executed in the bloody two hours. Quickly into the film, Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) packs up his pretty young wife (Kelly Macdonald) and sends her off to her mother’s place when he leaves their trailer park to go on the run from not only the law and Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), along with the hired man who comes looking (Woody Harrelson) but most notably killer Anton (Javier Bardem) who walks softly but carries a big weapon. Blood, it seems to the Coen brothers, is no longer quite as simple as the name of their oft-praised debut film implies and the writer/directors follow in the grand tradition of western and film noir allegory to paint a bitter and dark portrait of the evil lurking in the hearts of men. As one character states, “This country’s hard on people,” and that seems to be the recurring theme throughout.