The title of the Coen brothers’ latest film, “No Country for Old Men,” comes from the first lines of the Yeats poem, “Sailing to Byzantium.” Without delving too deeply into poetic analysis, it will suffice to say that the poem deals most directly with that lost paradise and the implacable fact that all things born must someday die.

The film – and the Cormac McCarthy novel it is adapted from – are really not interested in that fact because it is a foregone conclusion. What they are interested in, what they portray with disturbing, ascetic beauty, is the violent exigency of life. Most people will focus on the nihilistic overtones of the film, but the real force that lies at its narrative heart is mankind’s persistence in the face of darkest inhumanity and the eventual destruction it brings.

Evil takes many forms, so it is said, and its ugly shape shifting is usually precipitated by the presence of money. Drug money draws the life threads of three men together in the film: a lawman, a hunter and a monster. The hunter, Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), stumbles across a botched heroin deal on the Texas/Mexico border sometime in the ’80s. Corpses sprawl beside three or four pickup trucks circled together like a wagon train. Moss strides down and picks up the quintessential opportunity awaiting him: two million dollars in a black satchel. Like almost anyone would, he takes it without hesitation – with the same hubristic notion that he might actually get away with it.

Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), a monster as morally incomprehensible as his name is unpronounceable, stands in Moss’ way. His connection to the money is never made explicit, and it isn’t really relevant; his motives supersede money, of course, because he realizes it is only a means to the same futile end. Put simply, he is the Grim Reaper, a sociopath designed only to end lives. Bardem plays him with such convincing detachment that it borders on condescension, as if Chigurh is the only one that can see the truth of life. Listen carefully to his speech with the gas station attendant and he sounds like a sage trapped in the body of a ruthless killer.

That sentiment perplexes Sheriff Bell – played pitch-perfectly by Tommy Lee Jones. He feels helpless in the face of Chigurh’s outright abandonment of human values. As the anti-cavalry, he dispels the old Western myth that the Texas lawman can solve all problems. When an old friend commiserates with him late in the movie, he feels dwarfed by an evil “that is nothing new.” While the film’s dénouement may perplex some, Bell has two dreams that might give us hope among all the darkness of our own behavior.

Philosophy aside, the editing, lighting and sound of this film fit together flawlessly. The stark interplay between light and shadow fuel the film’s suspense just as much as each quick gun blast between interminable bouts of silence. This is oldschool, formalist, ballsy filmmaking with a mind and, contrary to popular belief, a soul. Miss it and you miss one of the best films of 2007.