Great Scene: “No Country For Old Men”

Great Scene: “No Country For Old Men”

?You need to call it. I can?t call it for you. It wouldn?t be fair. It wouldn?t even be right.?

The coin toss scene from No Country For Old Men (2007), screenplay by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen, one of the most riveting scenes in the movie:

Image for postINT. GAS STATION/GROCERY – DAYChigurh stands at the counter across from the elderly proprietor. He holds up a bag of cashews. CHIGURH How much? PROPRIETOR Sixty-nine cent. CHIGURH This. And the gas. PROPRIETOR Y’all getting any rain up your way? CHIGURH What way would that be? PROPRIETOR I seen you was from Dallas.Chigurh tears open the bag of cashews and pours a few into his hand. CHIGURH What business is it of yours where I’m from, friendo? PROPRIETOR I didn’t mean nothin’ by it. CHIGURH Didn’t mean nothin’. PROPRIETOR I was just passin’ the time. CHIGURH I guess that passes for manners in your cracker view of things.A beat. PROPRIETOR Well sir I apologize. If you don’t wanna accept that I don’t know what else I can do for you. Chigurh stands chewing cashews, staring while the old man works the register and puts change on the counter. PROPRIETOR …Will there be somethin’ else? CHIGURH I don’t know. Will there?Beat.The proprietor turns and coughs. Chigurh stares. PROPRIETOR Is somethin’ wrong? CHIGURH With what? PROPRIETOR With anything? CHIGURH Is that what you’re asking me? Is there something wrong with anything? The proprietor looks at him, uncomfortable, looks away. PROPRIETOR Will there be anything else? CHIGURH You already asked me that. PROPRIETOR Well… I need to see about closin’. CHIGURH See about closing. PROPRIETOR Yessir. CHIGURH What time do you close? PROPRIETOR Now. We close now. CHIGURH Now is not a time. What time do you close. PROPRIETOR Generally around dark. At dark.Chigurh stares, slowly chewing. CHIGURH You don’t know what you’re talking about, do you? PROPRIETOR Sir? CHIGURH I said you don’t know what you’re talking about.Chigurh chews. CHIGURH …What time do you go to bed. PROPRIETOR Sir? CHIGURH You’re a bit deaf, aren’t you? I said what time do you go to bed. PROPRIETOR Well…A pause. PROPRIETOR …I’d say around nine-thirty. Somewhere around nine-thirty. CHIGURH I could come back then. PROPRIETOR Why would you be comin’ back? We’ll be closed. CHIGURH You said that.He continues to stare, chewing. PROPRIETOR Well… I need to close now — CHIGURH You live in that house behind the store? PROPRIETOR Yes I do. CHIGURH You’ve lived here all your life?A beat. PROPRIETOR This was my wife’s father’s place. Originally. CHIGURH You married into it. PROPRIETOR We lived in Temple Texas for many years. Raised a family there. In Temple. We come out here about four years ago. CHIGURH You married into it. PROPRIETOR …If that’s the way you wanna put it. CHIGURH I don’t have some way to put it. That’s the way it is. He finishes the cashews and wads the packet and sets it on the counter where it begins to slowly unkink. The proprietor’s eyes have tracked the packet. Chigurh’s eyes stay on the proprietor. CHIGURH …What’s the most you’ve ever lost on a coin toss? PROPRIETOR Sir? CHIGURH The most. You ever lost. On a coin toss. PROPRIETOR I don’t know. I couldn’t say.Chigurh is digging in his pocket. A quarter: he tosses it. He slaps it onto his forearm but keeps it covered. CHIGURH Call it. PROPRIETOR Call it? CHIGURH Yes. PROPRIETOR For what? CHIGURH Just call it. PROPRIETOR Well — we need to know what it is we’re callin’ for here. CHIGURH You need to call it. I can’t call it for you. It wouldn’t be fair. It wouldn’t even be right. PROPRIETOR I didn’t put nothin’ up. CHIGURH Yes you did. You been putting it up your whole life. You just didn’t know it. You know what date is on this coin? PROPRIETOR No. CHIGURH Nineteen fifty-eight. It’s been traveling twenty-two years to get here. And now it’s here. And it’s either heads or tails, and you have to say. Call it.A long beat. PROPRIETOR Look… I got to know what I stand to win. CHIGURH Everything. PROPRIETOR How’s that? CHIGURH You stand to win everything. Call it. PROPRIETOR All right. Heads then.Chigurh takes his hand away from the coin and turns his arm to look at it. CHIGURH Well done.He hands it across. CHIGURH …Don’t put it in your pocket. PROPRIETOR Sir? CHIGURH Don’t put it in your pocket. It’s your lucky quarter. PROPRIETOR …Where you want me to put it? CHIGURH Anywhere not in your pocket. Or it’ll get mixed in with the others and become just a coin. Which it is. He turns and goes. The proprietor watches him.

Here is the scene from the movie:

As I was reading through the scene, I was thinking that if a student handed me these script pages, I would have most likely suggested they trim it. After all, the scene is 7 pages long. What?s the point of the scene? The coin toss. How long does it take to get to the coin toss? 5 pages. Do you really need all that business up front before the coin toss?

But looking at the scene as it was shot (its actual screen time is 4:25), we can see at least one big reason why the Coens wanted the scene to play out with that lengthy run-up of dialogue before the coin toss: Chigurh?s sense of who deserves to live and who deserves to die extends to everyone he meets.

At first, he gets agitated by the Proprietor?s prying questions (even though they?re entirely innocent queries). Then he gets pissed off at the old man?s slow mental capabilities, not picking up quickly enough on Chigurh?s questions (again the Proprietor is totally innocent, how could he expect to follow Chigurh?s line of questions, he has no idea of Chigurh?s violent world view). But what really seems to seal the deal re Chigurh is the fact that the Proprietor ?married into? this business (the gas station, store, house behind the store). For some reason, that is a determining factor for Chigurh (?I don?t have some way to put it. That?s the way it is.?) because directly after, Chigurh asks, ?What?s the most you?ve ever lost on a coin toss??

So the run-up to the coin toss takes us down a seemingly meandering set of questions by Chigurh, ending with a bit of business ? the Proprietor marrying into his current gig ? that leaves us with a mystery: Why is this so damned important to Chigurh that he determines to put the guy?s life at risk with the coin toss? That the old guy benefited from something not directly related to his own hard work? Marrying into the gig is somehow a dishonest way of getting ahead? Those questions are left unresolved ? all we know is that Chigurh has determined that the coin he?s tossed, its twenty-two year journey to ?get here,? that destiny is now tied up with the Proprietor?s fate ? and it?s Chigurh?s calling to execute whatever ?justice? is determined by the coin. And all of that plays under and through the tense moments of the coin toss and its resolution.

It?s interesting to compare this scene, where the Bad Guy asks a series of provocative questions with the threat of violence looming in the not so distant future, with the ?What do you mean I?m funny? scene in Good Fellas. Similar rising tension to both scenes, only in Good Fellas, one big difference is that Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci) goes at Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) not because of some sense of right or wrong, who should live or who should die, but just because he likes to fuck with people:

Two great scenes for the price of one today!Comment Archive

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