The 30 Best Movies from Books on Netflix

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The 30 Best Movies from Books on Netflix

Looking for a good book adaptation on Netflix? We’ve got you covered with 30 great movies based on books you can read before you stream them on Netflix Instant.

The first attempts to adapt a novel into a screenplay weren’t the most successful. Austrian-American director Erich von Stroheim tackled Frank Norris’ novel Greed in 1924, and the first cut was nine-and-a-half hours long. Since then, filmmakers have learned to abridge the story to fit a more typical moviegoing experience.

The following 30 movies, all available to stream on Netflix in the U.S., were adapted from books, whether novels or works of non-fiction. Several were nominated or won Oscars for Best Adapted Screenplay. But all are successful attempts to take a beloved book and turn it into something more visual.

Here are the 30 best movies from books on Netflix:

30. The Bridge on the River Kwai

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Year: 1957
Director: David Lean
Author: Pierre Boulle (Le Pont de la Rivière Kwai, 1952)
Before he was beach-bumming on Tatooine, Alec Guiness was known by many as Lieutenant Colonel Nicholson in David Lean’s The Bridge on the River Kwai. The film, based on the French novel Le Pont de la Rivière Kwai by Pierre Boulle, follows a group of Allied comandos in the Burmese jungle as they attempt to destroy a bridge built by British POWs. Many times, explosions are exactly what they seem: dazzling and destructive. But in Kwai, the bridge’s destruction is a symbol for the film’s thematic message on war as a whole, as Major Clipton aptly describes in the closing scene as “madness.”—Darren Orf


29. Forrest Gump

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Year: 1994
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Author: Winston Groom (1986)
Few films infiltrate the collective American psyche quite the way Forrest Gump managed. You’ve undoubtedly heard someone make reference to this 1994 classic—whether it was a classmate sarcastically yelling “Run, Forrest, run!” as you hustled to catch the bus, or someone busting out their best drawl to deliver, “Momma always said life is like a box of chocolates.” The entire film is full of dialogue that’s both moving and funny (my personal favorites include “But Lt. Dan, you ain’t got no legs” and “I’m sorry I had a fight at your Black Panther party”). Forrest may be a simple man, but his story—written by Winston Groom in his 1986 novel of the same name—is our nation’s story, and we all are run through the emotional gauntlet as we watch him hang with Elvis and John Lennon, fight in Vietnam and encounter many a civic protest—all while in pursuit of his true love, Jenny. Tom Hanks delivers an Oscar-winning performance, and Gary Sinise is heartbreaking as Lt. Dan.—Bonnie Stiernberg


28. The English Patient

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Year: 1996
Director: Anthony Minghella
Author: Michael Ondaatje (1992)
It wasn’t just Elaine Benes who thought that The English Patient was overrated and boring: Even at the time of its Oscar win, this period romantic epic was being criticized in some quarters for its self-consciously old-school sweep. To which its fans say, “Yeah, so?” A stellar “They don’t make ’em like this anymore” movie, filmmaker Anthony Minghella’s adaptation of Michael Ondaatje’s novel starred Ralph Fiennes and Kristin Scott Thomas as the most poignantly star-crossed big-screen lovers since Ilsa walked backed into Rick’s life. Beautifully shot, sensitively acted, romantically overpowering, The English Patient is way, way better than Sack Lunch.—Tim Grierson


27. Cold in July

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Year: 2014
Director: Jim Mickle
Author: Joe R. Lansdale (1989)
Richard Dane seems like a decent-enough man. Living in East Texas in 1989, he has a wife and child, and when he hears a noise coming from the living room late one night, he goes out cautiously, holding his dead father’s gun tentatively. He didn’t mean to kill anyone. And he certainly didn’t intend to have just about everything in his world change in the moment when he accidentally pulled the trigger. Michael C. Hall plays Richard, not overdoing the character’s regular-hick modesty. Adapted from Joe R. Lansdale’s novel, Cold in July has a steely, slightly off-kilter vibe. Less extreme than the regional portraits preferred by the Coen brothers, the movie soaks up the period details, particularly in Jeff Grace’s wry nod to the synthesizer-driven scores of the 1980s. As in his past films, Mickle demonstrates an impressive degree of tonal control: Cold in July clearly pays homage to a certain style of bygone genre filmmaking, but not at the expense of the characters or the stakes. (Still, not for nothing is a crucial scene set at a drive-in theater.) Consequently, the film has both a giddy, escapist feel and a grim suspense, its self-conscious artificiality melding perfectly with its barebones emotional authenticity.—Tim Grierson


26. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

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Year: 2011
Director: Tomas Alfredson
Author: John le Carré (1974)
Steeped in the monochrome color palette and noir soundtrack of 1970s espionage cinema, Tomas Alfredson’s adaptation of John le Carré’s classic bestselling spy novel offers smart, nostalgic entertainment for a discerning adult audience. Set in 1973 at the height of the Cold War, the film turns on the suspicion that a double agent has infiltrated Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), a.k.a. MI6. Shortly after a botched operation to ferret out the mole ends his career, Control (John Hurt) dies, leaving his investigation in the hands of retired operative George Smiley (Gary Oldman). With grayed blond hair and owlish glasses, Oldman disappears into his role, not only physically but behaviorally. Smiley is a still man, watching and waiting, while his mind whirs, processing and analyzing years’ worth of data, information and memories.—Annlee Ellingson


25. Philomena

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Year: 2004
Director: Stephen Frears
Author: Martin Sixsmith (The Lost Child of Philomena, 2009)
Philomena, follows a woman’s search for her son, who was “sold off” by the Irish Catholic church 50 years earlier. Starring Judi Dench and Steve Coogan, the heartbreaking twists and turns of Philomena’s journey are even more jaw-dropping as we learn the story is based on the 2009 nonfiction book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee, by BBC correspondent Martin Sixsmith. In 1950s Ireland young Philomena (Sophie Kennedy Clarke) is disowned by her family after a tryst results in pregnancy. Sent to Roscrea convent, she works in the laundries to pay for her room and board—and her sins. She and the other young mothers are allowed to see their children for an hour a day. Philomena and her son Anthony adhere to this limited schedule for nearly three years until Anthony is adopted, against her wishes, on Christmas 1955. Nearly five decades later, the elderly Philomena (Dench) reveals the secret she’s been keeping all these years to her daughter. They reach out to Sixsmith (Coogan), a recently fired British government flack and former BBC journalist, to help Philomena search for her lost son. Although talking about “chemistry” is usually reserved for romantic onscreen relationships, it applies here in spades. Dench and Coogan create a believable rapport for their disparate characters. They play with the yin and yang expertly, and we watch as the characters both grow from their experience together in subtle, yet substantial, ways. The bittersweet mystery could have easily strayed into maudlin, tabloid territory, if it solely targeted evil nuns or a Catholic Church coverup. But instead, Philomena adds much-needed moments of humor s it follows the journey for the truth, raising questions about faith, infallibility and family. The steady direction by Frears, coupled with the snappy and substantive dialogue, keeps the film grounded when even the truth becomes hard to believe.—Christine N. Ziemba


24. Blue is the Warmest Color

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Year: 2013
Director: Abdellatif Kechiche
Author: Julie Maroh (2010)
Three-hour movies usually are the terrain of Westerns, period epics or sweeping, tragic romances. They don’t tend to be intimate character pieces, but Blue Is the Warmest Color (La Vie D’Adèle Chapitres 1 et 2) more than justifies its length. A beautiful, wise, erotic, devastating love story based on Julie Maroh’s graphic novel, this tale of a young lesbian couple’s beginning, middle and possible end utilizes its running time to give us a full sense of two individuals growing together and apart over the course of years. It hurts like real life, yet leaves you enraptured by its power.—Tim Grierson


23. Hard to Be a God

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Year: 2015
Director: Aleksei German
Author: Arkady and Boris Strugatsky (1964)
Aleksei German’s final film is a stark, wild journey through medieval sci-fi filth. Like the drunken bastard child of a dreamy Andrei Tarkovsky epic and a Terry Gilliam yarn, in Hard to Be a God we see hints of Tarkovsky’s pensive takes, as well as his predilection toward existential speculative fiction (he adapted his 1979 film Stalker from a novel by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, the same Russian brothers who wrote Hard to Be a God in 1964), coupled with a sort of sensory overload as German’s frames wander through countless intricate details that call to mind Gilliam, another director attracted to obsessive, timeless dystopia. Tarkovsky may have a penchant for surreal confusion, but he anchors his oneiric sensibilities in characters’ motivations, desires, and souls. Here, there’s no real motivation, no real desire, and no real soul, just a crawl through depravity. But if that’s all you’re after, then here you go: This shit is executed majestically. —Jeremy Mathews


22. The Big Short

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Year: 2015
Director: Adam McKay
Author: Michael Lewis (The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, 2010)
The Big Short, Adam McKay’s kaleidoscopic look into the months leading up to the 2007 financial meltdown, is an angry film. And rightfully so—the amount of callous thievery characters uncover here is enough to make any rational person’s blood boil. It’s also, unquestionably, a funny film, tempering its acerbic leanings by highlighting just how blatantly surreal the whole ordeal truly was. Based on Michael Lewis’ award-winning non-fiction account of how our economy crashed, McKay looks to counteract the inherently dry, impenetrable subject matter on display with boatloads of vibrant, cinematic style. The Big Short may not always succeed, but it stands as an essential film nonetheless.—Mark Rozeman


21. Breathe

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Year: 2014
Director: Mélanie Laurent
Author: Anne-Sophie Brasme (Respire – 2004)
Nothing’s more effective at shaking a teen out of their monotonous high school routine than the arrival of a new student. That’s the stuff actress/director Mélanie Laurent’s sophomore film, Breathe, is made of: mystery and allure, with generous dollops of adolescent rivalry, sexual awakening and verbal abuse spooned on top. Think of Breathe as a distant European cousin to the fraught teen movies of Larry Clark as well as Catherine Hardwicke’s Thirteen, stories of imperiled youth, loneliness and volatile sentiment.—Andy Crump


20. Phoenix

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Year: 2014
Director: Christian Petzold
Author: Hubert Monteilhet (Les Retour des Cendres – 1961, loosely adapted)
Rarely in recent memory has the insoluble mystery of other people been so potent a driving force as it is in Phoenix. Here’s a drama that starts off with a seemingly simple conceit but eventually grows more and more troubling—and fascinating—into a critique of collective moral blindness and an up-close examination of marriage. The latest from German filmmaker Christian Petzold, Phoenix works best for all the answers it doesn’t provide, honoring the mysteries of everyday life rather than explaining them away.—Tim Grierson


19. Scrooged

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Year: 1988
Director: Richard Donner
Author: Charles Dickens (A Christmas Carol – 1843, loosely adapted)
We learn all we need to know from Bill Murray’s modern day Ebeneezer in his introduction: After viewing the latest promos for his television network, Frank opens his desk drawer, catches his reflection in a small mirror, smiles, fixes his hair and then closes it. In case it’s not clear: Frank Cross has a drawer in his desk devoted to a vanity mirror. While the rest of the film sometimes devolves into over-the-top nonsense, it’s Murray’s committed touches like these that make Frank Cross so memorable.—Greg Smith


18. Gomorrah

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Year: 2008
Director: Matteo Garrone
Author: Roberto Saviano (2006)
Gritty like The Godfather or the work of Martin Scorsese, Gomorrah depicts five microcosmic stories of the brutal underground mafia scene in Naples. The cast of largely untrained actors only enhances the film’s grim authenticity, and that authenticity is bolstered by the fact that the film’s source material, the bestselling book of same name, required author Roberto Saviano to get a permanent police escort. Harrowing in its matter-of-factness, the Academy criminally overlooked one of 2008’s best by not nominating it for Best Foreign Film. Roberto Saviano, who wrote the non-fiction investigative book of the same name, adapted the screenplay, as well.—Jeremy Medina


17. Clueless

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Year: 1995
Director: Amy Heckerling
Author: Jane Austen (Emma – 1815, very loosely adapted)
A combination of comedy, romance and high-school spunk, Clueless is a story with true ’90s flair. Alicia Silverstone stars as the pretty and popular Cher, a privileged valley girl with a penchant for matchmaking. While she cruises potential boyfriends for her girlfriends, she struggles to figure out her relationships. The film is a charming, modern take on Jane Austen’s 1815 novel Emma, and with performances by a youthful Paul Rudd and Brittany Murphy, it’s anything but an airhead. Could we love this film anymore? As if!—Megan Farokhmanesh


16. A Room With a View

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Year: 1986
Director: James Ivory
Author: E.M. Forster (1908)
In the 1980s and 1990s, the phrase “A Merchant & Ivory” film was as much a genre as a reference to the actual films directed by James Ivory and produced by Ismail Merchant. The 1986 winner for best adapted screenplay, A Room With a View embodies the best of what their virtually templated approach has to offer—a story of the mostly British upper crust, often set in a romantic or exotic setting, unfolded in a measured fashion and accompanied by much repressed feeling. That said, A Room With a View is at heart a hilarious comedy of manners that gets funnier with each subsequent viewing.—Michael Burgin


15. Silver Linings Playbook

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Year: 2012
Director: David O. Russell
Author: Matthew Quick (2008)
With leads as winning as Cooper and Lawrence, and Russell’s signature mix of clever and sincere dialogue, the hook is set. Every single detail doesn’t gel—Chris Tucker’s role as Danny, Pat Jr’s escape-prone friend from the treatment facility, seems a bit extraneous—but it doesn’t need to. By the end of the dance competition finale (yeah, there’s that), the audience, actors and director are on exactly the same page—and it’s Russell’s playbook.—Michael Burgin


14. Tell No One

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Year: 2006
Director: Guillaume Canet
Author: Harlan Cohen
Leave it to the French to take an American novel straight off the New York Times Best Seller list and transform it into a masterful exercise in mystery and suspense that puts most Hollywood filmmaking to shame. The story of Tell No One centers on Alexandre, a middle-aged man recovering from the murder of his wife, Margot, eight years prior. One day, he receives an email from someone claiming to be Margot. What’s more, the sender attaches recent video surveillance of his “deceased” wife. An enthralling piece of filmmaking that totally delivers on the strength of its premise, Tell No One marks that rare thrill ride that also manages to incorporate a healthy level of emotionally rich drama. The Hollywood remake is inevitable, so be sure to catch it while you can and secure some major film snob cred.—Mark Rozeman


13. Jurassic Park

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Year: 1993
Director: Steven Spielberg
Author: Michael Crichton (1990)
Jurassic Park, in 1993, was an achievement in major league filmmaking. Like Star Wars before it, it was a quantum leap in visual effects—both physical and CGI, in this case. Most important, however, were those CGI advancements. Jurassic Park, for better or worse, probably represents the first moment in AAA Hollywood filmmaking where an audience could look at CGI-driven creatures, nod their heads, and simply accept them as part of the story—call it the moment where CGI graduated to the modern era. Married with one of the greatest pure adventure movies in Spielberg’s celebrated canon, Jurassic Park was representative of the spectacle we’ve come to expect in the traditional “blockbuster.” That loose term, since the days of Jaws, has always referred to a breed of films that are supposed to succeed by wowing us and making jaws drop. Jurassic Park did that in a way that infinitely raised expectations for every effects-driven blockbuster thereafter.—Jim Vorel


12. The Hustler

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Year: 1961
Director: Robert Rossen
Author: Walter Tevis (1959)
It’s hard to believe this classic Paul Newman/Jackie Gleason movie about pool shark “Fast Eddie” Felson is over a half-century old. That might be why it was just nudged out of the elite eight of our Best Sports Movies bracket by White Men Can’t Jump. The film was nominated for nine Academy Awards, but Newman had to wait 25 years to win an Oscar as Felson for the film’s eventual sequel, The Color of Money.—Josh Jackson


11. To Kill a Mockingbird

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Year: 1962
Director: Robert Mulligan
Author: Harper Lee (1960)
Gregory Peck perfectly encapsulated what made Atticus Finch the ideal father in the novel To Kill A Mockingbird and brought him to the big screen in a classic performance. While Finch goes through a controversial rape trial, he stands up for what is right regardless of the danger and shows his children Scout and Jem how they should be not by telling them, but by teaching them through example.—Ross Bonaime


10. The Conformist

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Year: 1970
Director: Bernardo Bertolucci
Author: Alberto Moravia (1951)
Before The Conformist, Bertolucci had always been a master stylist, but here he worked within the strictures of noir and—excuse my hyperbole—made something of a perfect film. Proving that even the most common means of cinematic pulp could be used to transcendent ends, the director’s efforts found popular praise, garnering him both Oscar and Golden Globe nominations (among many), and paving the way for his riskier arthouse fare. Seemingly the director’s most political film, what it embodies more than an overt condemnation of fascism is a near peerless use of space, light and shadow to mirror an architecture of the mind, wherein an Italian bureaucrat (Jean-Louis Trintignant) mired within Mussolini’s fascist dictatorship must decide between playing by the rules or carving out his own identity.—Dom Sinacola


9. Laura

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Year: 1944
Director: Otto Preminger
Author: Vera Caspary (19420
Maybe falling in love with dead people is just an occupational hazard of being an investigative detective in New York City. Then again, maybe a shotgun blast to the face couldn’t keep anybody from developing a crush on Gene Tierney, which is pretty much how the plot of Otto Preminger’s Laura goes. The film tracks the trajectory of NYPD detective Mark McPherson’s growing obsession with the eponymous young lady as he cobbles together the bits and pieces of her life and death. Poring over her diary and her letters, he comes to moon over her, and why not? She’s every bit as delightful as Preminger’s movie. Laura doesn’t waste time and stacks contrivance on top of unlikelihood, but such is the strength of Preminger’s craft and the performances of his cast that the film’s convolution doesn’t matter.—Andy Crump


8. Beasts of No Nation

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Year: 2015
Director: Cary Fukunaga
Author: Uzodinma Iweala (2005)
Netflix’s debut venture into filmmaking tackles the dark reality of child soldiers. Beasts of No Nation stars Idris Elba as a nameless Commandant recruiting children for war in an unnamed country in Africa. A civil war has left many children without a family, and the Commandant takes full advantage of the young boys’ vulnerabilities, particularly one boy called Agu (Abraham Attah). By the end, the children form a full-fledged army under the Commandant, mercilessly killing and conquering as a group. Cary Fukunaga (True Detective) directs.—Alice Barsky


7. Full Metal Jacket

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Year: 1987
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Author: Gustav Hasford (The Short-Timers – 1979)
Before filling out, rather unfortunately, before our eyes on Law & Order: Criminal Minds, Vincent D’Onofrio piled on 70 lbs. for his role as Pvt. “Gomer Pyle” Lawrence before demonstrating exactly what was his Major Malfunction was to R. Lee Ermey’s Gunnery Sgt. Hartman. Stanley Kubrick’s film is a meat grinder of a reflection on the myriad horrible choices confronted in war. Along with providing an apex for Matthew Modine’s career, it also makes its case for being one of the best war movies ever made.—Scott Wold


6. The Exorcist

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Year: 1973
Director: William Friedkin
Author: William Peter Blatty (1971)
There is no horror film currently streaming on Netflix better, more influential or just plain scarier than The Exorcist. The film radiates an aura of dread—it feels somehow unclean and canted, even before all of the possession scenes begin. Segments like the “demon face” flash on the screen for an eighth of a second, disorienting the viewer and giving you a sense that you can never, ever let your guard down. It worms its way under your skin and then stays there forever. The film constantly wears down any sense of hope that both the audience and the characters might have, making you feel as if there’s no way that this priest, not particularly strong in his own faith, is going to be able to save the possessed little girl. Even his eventual “victory” is a very hollow thing, as later explored by author William Peter Blatty in The Exorcist III. Watching it is an ordeal, even after having seen it multiple times before. The Exorcist is a great film by any definition. —Jim Vorel


5. Metropolis

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Year: 1927
Director:Fritz Lang
Author: Thea von Harbou
Though in hindsight the actual story proves pretty wacky, Fritz Lang’s last silent film—before his second masterpiece M—could be called the blueprint for all sci-fi films that followed it. Whether the groundbreaking special effects, the visual scope or the intricate set design, greats such as Ridley Scott, George Lucas and Stanley Kubrick have borrowed from it (Lucas modeled C-3PO directly after the Maria robot). Metropolis, heavily influenced by the books of H.G. Wells, also stands as the first dystopian film in history.—David Roark


4. Trainspotting

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Year: 1996
Director: Danny Boyle
Author: Irvine Welsh (1993)
Based on the gritty Irvine Welsh novel of the same name, this early film from the director of Slumdog Millionaire and Millions follows a thuggish group of heroin addicts in Scotland and features brilliant performances from young Ewan McGregor, Kelly Macdonald and Robert Carlyle. At times funny, gripping and nightmarishly haunting, Trainspotting is not an easy movie to forget.—Josh Jackson


3. The Princess Bride

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Year: 1987
Director: Rob Reiner
Author: William Goldman (1973)
Quite possibly the most perfectly executed transformation of a beloved book to a beloved film in the history of the sport. A family-friendly “kissing movie” with pitch-perfect performances by the entire cast—from main character to bit player—The Princess Bride is the most relentlessly quotable film anywhere this side of Monty Python and their Holy Grail. Though regarded warmly enough by critics, its status as comedic fable ensures it is criminally underrated on most lists. Inconceivable? Alas, no. But unfair, nonetheless.—Michael Burgin


2. The Color Purple

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Year: 1985
Director: Steven Spielberg
Author: Alice Walker (1982)
In 1985 came the release of Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Color Purple, with Whoopi Goldberg occupying the role of Celie, the story’s centerpiece. Beautifully conveying the turmoil of a woman desperate to be appreciated in early 1900s America, Goldberg turns in a fine performance that breaks away from her traditional entertainment appeal.—Brian Tremml


1. No Country For Old Men

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Year: 2007
Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen
Author: Cormac McCarthy (2005)
What is it about the Coen Brothers’ inconsolable No Country for Old Men that still chills the blood, even under the South Texas sun? No doubt its inscrutability plays a role: Is it a Western, a noir or a morality play? And the Academy Award-winning performance by Javier Bardem disturbs because he himself remains a mystery: Is Anton Chigurh a merciless hitman or the Angel of Death? The story of a drug deal gone wrong soon reveals its true theme: the futility of being good and just in the face of abject evil. But the Coens also meditate on the faltering of the physical body. “Age’ll flatten a man,” Tommy Lee Jones’ Sherrif Bell esteems, and for this Texan, the evocation of my childhood landscape—right down to the tiniest detail—means that the specter of Chigurh will haunt not only the end of my life but stomp through its earliest remembrances as well.—Andy Beta

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