No Country for Old Men: Texas Venison Chili

Year Released: 2007
Directed by: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Kelly MacDonald
(R, 122 min.)

"It is a tale / Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, / Signifying nothing." William Shakespeare

If you are already a bit bogged down with the stresses and strains of the season and are looking for a little bit of holiday cheer, do not – repeat - do not go see this film. Hollywood, mired in a quagmire of despair, seems determined to share its misanthropic misery with the rest of us. It’s as if, to quote one critic, they are writing for their pessimistic peers instead of the audience.

Not that No Country for Old Men doesn’t have its brilliance in a cold, soulless way. The plot itself -- a drug deal gone bad, a hapless deer hunter who finds the left over cash, and his relentless pursuit by some of the bad guys not left rotting in the desert – is not particularly innovative, but the earthy way it unfolds is riveting.

The looming menace, a pageboy shorn Javier Bardem, looking like one of the Beatles gone bad, is the ultimate Nowhere Man. Instead of a gun, he carries a contraption that looks very much like an old fashioned fire extinguisher, only his shoots air at such high pressure that it blows through deadbolt locks and human flesh with equal alacrity. Why it is somehow more efficient to lug this cumbersome device around instead of something more conventional, like perhaps a 9 mm semi automatic tucked into his jeans, is beyond me.

Tommy Lee Jones plays Sheriff Ed Tom Bell to perfection, as though all his other lawmen portrayals -- The Fugitive (1998), Double Jeopardy(1999), The Hunted (2003), and The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005) were rehearsals for this quintessential role. Every line of the West Texas desert is etched into his face, the sad eyes as empty as the forlorn plains, but his flinty integrity is intact. And in contrast to Hollywood’s linguistic tutors who turn out faux accents as quickly as fast food, Tommy’s undeniably authentic West Texas drawl is as comfortable as a pair of well worn boots.

Josh Brolin plays Llewelyn Moss, the guy who happens upon the money, with understatement and restraint, his taciturn everyman not really greedy or stupid, but just stubbornly in over his head. And then there are the usual sprinklings of the Coen brothers’ characters, these ringing a bit more true to form. One of the more memorable is the gas station owner whose attempt at small talk with Bardem’s unremittingly evil Anton Chigurh is chilling in its banality. His “How’s the weather up in Dallas?” instantly becomes a threat, since he has bothered to notice the Dallas plates on the stolen car Chigurh is now filling up with gas. When Chigurh insists the owner choose heads or tales on a coin toss, the old man plaintively asks what they are betting on. Of course, having witnessed his swift removal of any innocent humans in his way, we know exactly what they are betting on and what the gas station owner stands to lose. And the fact that his call of heads is good and that his life is arbitrarily saved makes the event perhaps even more disturbing.

Here is where our expectations come in. Having established such a thoroughly evil player as Chigurh, a stalwart lawman like Bell, and a quasi-innocent out of his depth like Moss, we figure not everyone is going to come out of this alive. If John Wayne 's True Grit lawman were in charge, Moss would be saved and Chigurh killed or captured. More recent renditions might kill off Moss or the sheriff in some sort of self sacrifice, but Chigurh would go down as well. What we get in No Country for Old Men is not the blood bath you might anticipate, though. It goes out not with a bang but a whimper and with a sense of despair and futility like a clock slowly winding down to silence, not to mention an ending that is as abrupt as it is unsatisfying.

Indeed, life may be like that, but a film is supposed to massage some meaning out of events. We can take mayhem or misery, but meaninglessness, artsy or not, just doesn’t make it.

—Kathy Borich

Film-Loving Foodie

Our first glimpse of Llewelyn Moss has him holding a rifle hoping to take down the deer in its sights. It moves just as he takes aim, and thinking he has wounded it, Moss goes down to the clearing and begins to track a blood trail. But the trail is not from a deer, but a Pit Bull, perhaps the sole survivor of a drug deal gone bad.

If only Llewelyn’s aim had been a bit better, he would have brought some nice venison home to his little wife instead of the suitcase full of cash that takes him on a trip to nowhere. 

Let’s pretend he did get the deer and we can make some delicious and healthy Venison Chili in the true Texas tradition.

Texas Venison Chili

Here is your generic Chili Con Carne recipe. Note that Texas style usually means without beans.

"Cut up as much meat as you think you will need (any kind will do, but beef is probably best) in pieces about the size of a pecan. Put it in a pot, along with some suet (enough so as the meat won't stick to the sides of the pot), and cook it with about the same amount of wild onions, garlic, oregano, and chiles as you have got meat. Put in some salt. Stir it from time to time and cook it until the meat is as tender as you think it's going to get."

Next comes this great Venison Chili recipe, and although it does have some beans, they are black beans, which I like so much better than kidney beans. If you want to be a true Texan, feel free to go beanless.

  • 1/2 cup Olive oil 
  • 1 lb Venision sirloin, cut in 1/2" cubes 
  • 1 lb Ground beef (extra lean) 
  • 2 cup Yellow onions, chopped 
  • 1 cup Green pepper, chopped 
  • 1/4 cup Celery, chopped 
  • 4 cup Garlic, minced 
  • 3 lrg Jalapeno chile pepper, seeded and chopped 
  • 1/3 cup Masa harina (Mexican corn flour) 
  • 1/3 cup Chili powder 
  • 1/2 tsp Cayenne pepper 
  • 1 tsp Ground cumin 
  • 1/2 tsp White pepper 
  • 1/2 tbl Salt 
  • 2 can (15 1/2 oz.) chopped tomatoes 
  • 3 cup Beef broth 
  • 2 cup Canned black beans, rinsed and drained

Heat oil in a large Dutch oven or kettle over moderately high heat. 
Brown venison and ground beef in batches, transferring each to a 
bowl when browned; leave liquid in pot. Cook onion, green pepper, 
celery, garlic and chiles in beef juices, stirring until onion is soft. 
Add masa harina, chili powder, Add cayenne, cumin, pepper and 
salt and cook 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Add tomatoes, beef 
broth and meat; simmer, uncovered, 1 1/2 hours, or until meat is 
tender. Stir in beans and simmer 15 minutes more.

Recipe Source: Chile Recipes A-Z