~spoilers~ Upon reading No Country For Old Men you’re immediately struck by how faithful the film is to the book. You don’t get the feeling “oh, the book is so much better than the movie” or vice versa. It’s nearly a scene for scene representation and much of the dialogue remains unchanged from Cormac McCarthy’s original prose. There are three major differences as I see it and they aren’t even really that “major”.
One, the Mexican’s are at the hotel and a big part of the shoot out that ends with Llewelyn and Anton getting shot. Though Chigurh manages to kill most of them they’re the reason that Moss was able to get away with his life. The first time I saw the film I wasn’t really clear on how the Mexican’s fit in. Including this fact in the film may have helped make their role more clear and help set up the eventual demise of Moss.
Two, there is a lot of Ed Tom Bell narration that isn’t in the film. Every couple of chapters or so you’ll get another page or two of Sheriff Bell’s philosophy. This stuff is brilliant and if you read the book after seeing the film you can just imagine Tommy Lee Jones rambling on about his personal doubts, his views on the decline of the world around him, and his struggle with his impending retirement. For a film I think the Coen Brother’s included just enough of Bell’s thoughts, though they do enhance the novel greatly.
Three, there’s a fifteen year old runaway in the novel. Llewelyn picks up a hitchhiker, a teenaged girl who he befriends in a way. He tries to help her out with money and a little advice but unfortunately he winds up getting her killed in the end. She and Llewellyn are having a beer outside their motel rooms in El Paso when the Mexican’s show up and they both meet their end. This fact may have a tragic impact on the way Carla Jean sees her dead husband even though the relationship with the runaway was completely innocent.
In the end, No Country For Old Men the film isn’t there to capitalize on the existing fans of the novel like a Divinci Code or a Harry Potter. It’s just an opportunity to tell a good story. I think both McCarthy and the Coens managed something special here. Two fantastic and equal pieces of story telling in two completely different mediums.