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: Unfortunately, as with other Coen Brothers pictures, the extras are limited. The main extra 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.
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. The DVD presentation offers excellent audio/video quality, but the extra features - as expected from a Coen title - fall short. Highly recommended.
The Film A