No Country for Old Men (US - BD RA)
Gabe's review's been travelling 22 years to get here, and it's either heads or tails
Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) thinks he’s made his big break. One morning while hunting in the Texas desert he comes across a pile of dead bodies, shattered vehicles and cocaine. It’s a drug deal gone bad. After a little more exploration Moss finds a satchel filled with two million dollars cash and takes it. He tells his wife (Kelly Macdonald) he's going away for a while, and goes into hiding to plan his next move. Moss is trailed by two pursuers—an enigmatic, stone-cold killer named Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), who carries an air-powered cattle gun and heavy gage shot gun with a silencer, and Sheriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), an aging man with a golden heart trapped in a violent situation he simply doesn’t understand.
The last time the Academy got the Best Picture section of the Oscars correct was Return of the King, but that sweep was such a boring forgone conclusion the ceremony was entirely robbed of any suspense. Before 2003 I can’t think of the last time the Academy awarded even the second best picture the coveted prize (I guess 1993?). Post ROTK the awards have been especially disappointing, even last year when Martin Scorsese’s genius was finally recognized for The Departed, a film which doesn’t even crack the director’s top ten best productions. The award was for a body of work, not a single picture, which cheapened the win. Out of these shadows came the 2008 ceremony where not only did the best picture win the top award, the Coen Brother’s long deserved recognition comes for one of their best films, maybe even the best in their impressive catalogue.
No Country for Old Men is a breathless chase movie, a snare-taught thriller, a snide and smart comedy, a blood caked horror show, and a stoic traditional Western confined to the unfamiliarity of the early 1980s. This is every film genre but Sci-Fi, and not a single one is given less weight then any other. Why was it the best movie of 2007 and possible the Coen brother prestigious career? Because it’s brilliant, that’s why.
The Coen’s have conveniently split this masterpiece into two parts—the part that makes you react and the part that makes you think. The majority of the film, the first part, works on a purely visceral level. Seeing the film in a theatre with a packed audience was a fascination. After his brutal introduction the entire stadium seated crowd bristled primally at the very sight of Bardem. With minimal development the audience agonized for even his least likeable victims. Even the Coen’s usual back to front verbal banter has been distilled to its reptile mind minimum, without losing an ounce of wit.
Then the top of the last act sweeps visceral rug from under the edge-of-their-seaters. I can’t go into the specifics of the film’s more thoughtful moments because it would constitute some major spoilers, and not just the kind that could ruin plot points, the kinds that could ruin the entire experience of the film. Casual film audiences have spoken out against some of the Coen’s last act choices, but without them No Country for Old Men would just be a worthy follow-up to the violent thrills of Blood Simple and rousing humour of Raising Arizona. With the choices in tact the film becomes a transcendental subversion of everything the directors’ created before it.
Bardem’s supporting actor win was another Oscar no-brainer. His performance is fairly comparable to Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs, but it’s also totally different. Anton Chigurh is the quintessential bully—cold, mocking, and repetitive—and Bardem taps into him without ever laying all his cards on the table. Josh Brolin and Tommy Lee Jones end up overshadowed and overlooked, but both performances are equally attention worthy. Brolin had quite the badass year between this and Planet Terror, and manages to pull our attention away from Bardem’s sun-like gravity long enough to really care about his nearly silent characterization. Jones, along with supporting player Woody Harrelson, doesn’t stretch himself anywhere beyond places he’s already been, but it’s hard to argue with typecasting when it works so perfectly.
The little touches are what really push the film over the line into that ‘modern classic’ category. Chigurh’s hair cut, his strange choice of weapons, nonchalantly lifting his boots to avoid pooling blood, the repetitive use of pit bulls (“There’s a dead dog”), the surgical sequences—these are the moments that even casual audiences and people that didn’t like the film will always remember. The violence is frightening in both its excesses and its procedural nature, and also entirely beautiful. No Country represents the Coens’ utter obsessive-compulsive control better then any other feature. There isn’t a second of film that doesn’t appear sharply and specifically tuned, nor even a sound effect that appears to have escaped unnoticed and readjusted.
No Country for Old Men isn’t an ugly film, and Blu-ray Disc is the ideal way to view its non-ugliness. The early outdoor sequences are, bar none, some of the best images I’ve seen out of a live-action Blu-ray release. The Texas vistas are deep and full, almost three-dimensional, and the sun bakes them to a nice bright yellow. Details are so sharp you can actually make out flecks of dust as they’re kicked up by horse hooves and cowboy boots. Night scenes suffer only the slightest bit of low level noise, while still maintaining the transfer’s overall fine details, which is very important to the experience of the film. Colours are impressive overall, but after the film leaves the desert the colouring is more natural and less flashy, so the later parts of the disc are really all about the clarity.
Both the Blu-ray and DVD releases have issues with edge enhancement, especially in sharp background contrast, but the DVD has noticeable compression noise on the edges as well. Even when upscaled there really isn’t any comparison between the overall detail of the two releases, but the DVD isn’t anything to shrug off either. The blacks are thick without too much blocking or noise, and colours pop without bleeding much (though some of the reds show signs of blocking).
The Best Picture race was close this year, but for my money the sound editing and design awards were even closer. No Country for Old Men has shockingly minimal music, like, almost none, but the Coens don’t waste a moment of the film’s minimalist audio. The biggest standout moment comes when Bardem and Brolin first face off. First the silence of wait is cut by the sound of Chigurh’s footsteps and the beeping of his transponder as he gets closer. Then the silence is cut again by an air compressor’s piston ejecting a deadbolt, Brolin tumbling out of a second story window, a truck crashing, and two very different shotguns unleashing their loads.
The Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 track cuts across channels with vicious clarity, the bass punches like a gunshot, and nothing distorts, not a voice, not a footstep, not even a massive explosion. Unfortunately I was unable to enjoy the uncompressed PCM track, because I still run a stone age sound system, but I can image it sounds even more super duper.
This disc might as well come with a slip of paper reading ‘Special Edition to Come’. Actually, given the Coen’s track record it should probably read ‘Disappointing Special Edition to Come’. Besides a pile of Disney/BVHE high definition trailers the Blu-ray disc comes fitted only with three featurettes. ‘The Making of No Country for Old Men’ is a better then average EPK, running about twenty-five minutes, and full of the usual mix of behind the scenes, interview, and film footage. The Coen’s are enjoyably awkward, obsessively fidgeting and picking at their finger nails, and are pleasantly offset by the cast and crew who are well spoken.
‘Working with the Coens’ is eight minutes of cast and crew butt kissing, with more interviews and behind the scenes footage. These extra eight minutes really don’t bring anything new to the table. ‘Dairy of a County Sheriff’ is a slight explanation of the film’s deeper message. Most casual filmgoers will misunderstand who the main character of the film really is, and to them the last act likely came as a sort of downward shock. In these seven minutes the always-enigmatic filmmakers kind of let us in on the fact that Tommy Lee Jones is the real heart of the film, and the title is the point.
No Country for Old Men is a must see, so it begs at least a rent. The Blu-ray disc looks positively stunning, and sounds fantastic, but doesn’t hold mush in the way of interesting extras. I’d suggest that another release is on the horizon, but the Coen Brothers aren’t really fans of extra features, so perhaps this is the end all release.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 11th March 2008
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: PCM 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 English,
Subtitles: English HoH, French, and Spanish
Extras: The Making of No Country for Old Men, Working with the Coens, Diary of a Country Sheriff, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Joel and Ethan Coen
Cast: Javier Bardem, Rodger Boyce, Josh Brolin, Barry Corbin, Beth Grant
Length: 122 minutes
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