Joel and Ethan Coen joked that putting Cormac McCarthy’s novel No Country for Old Men in script form was just a matter of retyping. One brother held the book ajar, the other entered its contents into the computer. Indeed, McCarthy’s 2005 bestseller, unanimously described as “sparse,” “skeletal,” and “spare,” unfolds through dialogue and action rather than the “subjective interiority” of its characters. The lone inner voice, first-person narration from the sheriff, bookends the introduction and conclusion, and is italicized, as if to announce VOICE OVER. If it reads like a screenplay half-shrouded in flowery prose, that’s basically what it is—among Cormac McCarthy’s personal papers at Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas, is his original iteration of No Country for Old Men, a 1987 screenplay, which he shelved and later refashioned. The Coens, for their well-typed adaptation of a novelization of a screenplay, took home the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, along with Best Directing and Best Picture.
The Coens’ 2007 Oscar magnet will be will be the standard bearer for all future Cormac McCarthy adaptations. The Road and Blood Meridian will suffer by comparison. And if McCarthy’s screenplay had been green-lighted around 1987, with a different director and cast, chances are it would have come out soggy like Billy Bob Thornton’s All the Pretty Horses (2000). This isn’t to imply that the Coens are untouchably hot shit—they’re flawed and so is McCarthy’s novel—it just so happens that the material fits them like a glove. With McCarthy they formed a star-crossed match in complementary colors. Read Leah Churner on No Country for Old Men.