While the Coen Brothers have had a few mis-steps over the years ("Ladykillers", "Intolerable Cruelty"), even their lesser efforts still have their unmistakable touch and a few positives along the way to enjoy. "No Country For Old Men", the latest effort from the Coens, is a step deep into the kind of darkness that they last visited in 1996's "Fargo". "No Country" is their best effort since "Fargo" and, like that film, this was also nominated for Best Picture, as well.
The film opens with Moss (Josh Brolin) going hunting on the desert plains. In the middle of nowhere, he finds himself confronted with a horrific sight - a drug deal gone bad. He surveys the scene and finds one injured man, a lot of heroin and $2M dollars for the taking. He takes the cash and denies the man's request for a drink of water. He makes a mistake and comes back with the water later that night - and finds himself up against a group of people who want their cash back.
While he manages to escape, he soon finds that he's being trailed by Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), a killer who wants the money and will do anything to get it back. Joining the situation are local sheriff Ed Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), whose office Chigurh escaped from. There's also a bounty hunter (Woody Harrelson), who's hired by the people who are out their $2M. So sets in motion an incredibly tense cat-and-mouse game that stretches across a barren, desolate Southwest.
The picture is a Western, a crime story, a bit of an action movie at times and even feels like a horror picture in parts, as Bardem has created a truly evil villain - a devil unleashed in the desert. The filmmakers have done an excellent job developing the character just enough - Bardem's character remains enough of a mystery to make him even more terrifying.
Brolin also offers up one of his finest performances (if not his finest performance) as a scrappy everyman who finds himself in the midst of a waking nightmare. Tommy Lee Jones has played this character before, but watching him play this role, one doesn't think about how Jones has done this before - only who could have done it better? I don't think anyone could have. His portrayal of an old world sheriff who feels he may be too old to face the kind of troubles he is now seeing increasingly often.
It may be no country for old men, but the film's stark, haunting cinematography (by frequent Coen collaborator Roger Deakins - and it's utterly ridiculous that Deakins has never won an Oscar) is stunning, capturing the bleak locations perfectly. The film's costume design (by Mary Zophres, who has worked with the Coens on several films) and production design (Jess Gonchor) is exemplary, as well.
A stunning, quietly powerful thriller with excellent performances, "No Country For Old Men" is one of the Coens best works and one of the best films of the last year or two.
VIDEO: "No Country For Old Men" is a Paramount/Miramax co-production, but Miramax is the studio putting the title out on DVD. The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation is marvelous, doing justice to the film's exceptional cinematography. Sharpness and detail are consistently first-rate, as the picture appeared crisp and well-defined throughout the show, with good fine detail. Some grain is present at times, but it is an intentional element of the cinematography. No edge enhancement or artifacting were seen. Colors remained spot-on, never appearing smeary or muddy. Black level remained strong, as well.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack isn't aggressive, but it is certainly quite impressive in ways. The outdoor scenes offer a consistent rustle of wind and other background ambience. While the majority of scenes offer subtle, detailed audio, the more intense sequences offer powerful, startling sound effects. Surrounds are used quite well when necessary, and audio quality is outstanding.
EXTRAS: The main extra on the first disc is a 24-minute "making of" documentary that manages to be slightly better than these promotional documentaries usually are. It offers some insights on the development of the project, the story, casting, performances and working with the Coens. We also get shorter featurettes about the Coens and about the Tommy Lee Jones character. These are the extras from the first release, carried over.
While there still isn't a commentary from the Coen Brothers included, there is a disc of additional bonus features and a third disc that offers a digital copy of the film for portable devices or PCs.
The second disc starts with "Josh Brolin's Unauthorized Behind-the-Scenes Documentary". There isn't much explanation regarding the history of the feature, but it is apparently a Brolin-helmed look at the making of the movie. We get a series of interviews with the cast - who primarily discuss their introduction to the movie and their (rather interesting) experiences working with the Coens. The piece lasts a little over 9 minutes.
"Publicity Timeline" is a rather interesting feature, as while it's a series of interviews, all these different pieces are organized by date, essentially turning the interviews into a tour of the film's publicity tour. Included in this section is a "Lunch With David Poland" interview with Bardem and Brolin, an EW.com "Just a Minute" with Bardem, a "Creative Screenwriting Magazine" audio interview with Joel and Ethan Coen, an NPR audio interview with Brolin and another with the Coens and one more with Bardem.
Also in the section is a "Variety" Q & A, a WGAW LA Q & A Panel, an ABC "Popcorn" interview with Peter Travers and the stars, WNBC "Reel Talk" interview, a Channel 4 news interview with the Coens, the "Charlie Rose" interview with the Coens, Bardem and Brolin; an int-store appearance with Bardem and Brolin, a Q & A hosted by Spike Jonze with Ethan Coen, Deakins and the sound/production design crew and a KCRW audio interview with the Coens interviewed by Elvis Mitchell.
There's a ton of audio & video interviews included here, and they are quite an appealing mix of fun clips (while I'm not a fan of Entertainment Weekly, the "Just One Minute" interview with Bardem is amusing) and more serious interviews. A couple of the more promotional pieces are forgettable (such as the Lyons interview), but most of these documentaries/clips are quite informative - the "Charlie Rose" interview with is an excellent discussion of the film, with topics ranging from casting (including Brolin's audition tape, which was directed by Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez) to adapting and on-set interviews. The WGA Q & A - which is another highlight - offers an in-depth chat about how the Coens went about the task of adapting the Cormac McCarthy novel. While it's still a bit of a bummer that no commentary is included (if not from the Coens, maybe cinematographer Roger Deakins?), there's a good deal of material to go through on the second disc.
Final Thoughts: A stunning, quietly powerful thriller with excellent performances, "No Country For Old Men" is one of the Coens best works and one of the best films of the last year or two. As for this new edition, it's recommended for those who don't already own the film and are seeking a first purchase. Those who already own the prior DVD should upgrade only if they have an interest in extras.
The Film A