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Under The Big Sky: The Setting
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN unfolds against one of America's most visceral and mythologized landscapes: the hardscrabble, desolate Texas-Mexico borderlands, where the two countries are divided only by the banks of the Rio Grande. To authentically capture this sun-ravaged, blood-soaked locale that straddles two countries, the production journeyed to the dry plains of West Texas and the deserts of New Mexico, where the Coens collaborated once again with five-time Academy Award® nominee Roger Deakins as cinematographer. 

"The setting is actually part of the reason that we wanted to do this film,” Ethan Coen notes. "We'd done our first movie (BLOOD SIMPLE) in Texas, although that was in Austin, but we'd also traveled through West Texas, and were attracted to it even before we read the book.”

He continues: "The setting is so integral to the book, to the story – it's about where it takes place as much as anything else. It is a very beautiful landscape, but in a bleak rather than picturesque way. It's not an easy place to live in, and that's important to what the story is about – the human confrontation with this harsh environment.”

Joel concurs, "It's a place with a history of violence and of being inhospitable in a way. As with all of Cormac McCarthy's novels, the location is a character itself – and it can't be separated from the story.”

Deakins contributed stunningly austere visuals that allowed the locations to come to electrifying life. He recalls that in earlier conversations with the Coens, "we talked about the heat and the light and the mix of colors for the motel and the streets at night.” Deakins also had his own influences in mind. "For me, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN was like a Sam Peckinpah movie,” he explains. "It has the feel of a period piece – but then the contemporary world intrudes. I especially thought of Peckinpah's BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA, where the characters still live by the rules of the past and are out of touch with the modern world.”

To heighten this tension, Deakins used light as a storytelling device throughout NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. "I loved contrasting the brightness of exteriors with the darkness of interiors and the bleached feel of the landscape with the garish colors of the nighttime world,” he says. "One of the biggest challenges was making a smooth transition from dawn to nighttime at the ‘drug deal' location and into the river. We dealt with it as best we could by shooting in the dawn light, shooting at dusk and recreating a ‘fake dawn' with lighting rigs.”

At the same time, Deakins believes that the landscapes are merely echoes of what really counts in the frame – characters. He says, "Every film that I've worked on has been primarily about character. To me, the locations are only a backdrop and I always feel that I am primarily photographing characters. If a shot is pretty, but doesn't set a mood or help develop the story, then it is pointless. I love photographing faces and we had some of the best actors working today.” 

Deakins' work with the Coens has won widespread acclaim and awards, including Academy Award® nominations for FARGO, BARTON FINK and THE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE. He notes that their simpatico creative relationship lies at the core of their successful collaborations. "We know each other well and have a similar approach to visuals,” the cinematographer summarizes. "I really just hope the photography works for the story and appears seamless.” 

That sense of seamlessness in storytelling was also aimed for in the editing room, where the Coens' long-lived collaborator and seeming third-wheel, the enigmatic and elderly British editor Roderick Jaynes, who has been with them since BLOOD SIMPLE, once again cut their picture. 

The shoot itself began in Marfa, Texas, a notoriously rugged area about three and a half hours from El Paso. Best known as t

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