First of all, it's pretty good. I haven't read the McCarthy novel, so if you're a devotee of his, you might have a very different outlook on the film as an adaptation. But taken just by itself, it's a fine piece of moviemaking and one that I suspect will improve on repeated viewing.
Some thoughts, in no particular order:
* Tommy Lee Jones deserves an Oscar for his performance. Or maybe a Grammy for "spoken word," because what he does in No Country he does almost entirely with his voice. That may not sound like much, but he's given terse, old-timey Texas words and he delivers them like poetry, only believably. It's kind of amazing. (In particular, Jones is saddled with the movie's opening voice-over narration. It's so hard to keep this device from looking like a device, and the script he's working off of here would sound really precious coming out of anyone else's mouth. He delivers it perfectly.
* There's no score. Until the closing credits roll, the only music in the entire movie is from a mariachi band that walks through the frame at one point. After the movie was over, I found myself keenly aware of how manipulative music can be in the hands of filmmakers who use it to try to spark in viewers emotions that their camera and story can't fully evoke.
* Also, the soundscape is pretty wonderful and made all the more so because of the lack of background music.
* God bless Stephen Root. Is he the most talented guy in Hollywood never to make it really big? I say, maybe yes.
* Kelly Macdonald--you know her from Gosford Park is from fracking Scotland. Here she pulls off a pitch-perfect trailer-trash housefrau. All shades of awesome.
* There's a scene where Josh Brolin is being chased across the open range at night and there's a flash of purple lightening in the distance. It's stunning. Either cinematographer Roger Deakins got unbelievably lucky, or this is the best, least obtrusive, use of CGI this year.
* Anton Chiguhr really is as iconic a character as everyone says. And my favorite bit of writing for him is the scene where he shows up in the gas station, flips a coin, and tells the old proprietor to call it, heads or tails. You've seen this in the trailers, friend-o. Well this is the first time in the movie he flips a coin for someone's life and the off-the-shelf way to write the character is to have Chiguhr kill the first person whose life he flips for. This establishes him as the heavy. (Again, SPOILERS!) Instead, the fellow in the gas station calls it right and gets to live. And if anything, it serves to make Chiguhr scarier and more interesting. It's a great writing decision.
* There's a key scene at the end that takes place entirely off-camera. The movie-geek websites have been debating whether or not this is a cheat or too self-conscious. For me it really works. A lot of things in No Country take place off-camera. In fact, nearly every important plot-point does. (That's one reason I think the movie is probably going to age well.) This big, off-screen payoff feels perfectly in keeping with the rest of the movie.
* Yes, there is one coda too many. But only one. And no flying saucers appear. So that's something.
* Ummmm, where's John Goodman?
* I won't be surprised if No Country and There Will Be Blood are the two heavy Oscar favorites.
Update: Ross Douthat complains that Tommy Lee Jones shouldn't get an Oscar for No Country because he's the third (or fourth or fifth) best performance in the movie. I'd both agree and disagree with him. Josh Brolin should get at least a nom, and Javier Bardem deserves one, too--but I'd put both of them in the Lead Actor category. Jones's performance was, to me, anyway, a supporting role, albeit one that anchored part of the film. Brolin and Bardem are also fabulous.
Also, the further I get from No Country, the more I like it.