Miramax // 2007 // 120 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Ryan Keefer (Retired) // March 11th, 2008
There are no clean getaways.
Fresh from scoring four Academy Awards, including two for Joel and Ethan Coen (Fargo), No Country For Old Men was at the top of critics' Top 10 lists and has been praised and adored by almost everyone that has seen it. I've never torn the cellophane off a DVD case as quickly as I did for this, so here's hoping the disc is worth the wait, right?
The Coen brothers adapted Cormac McCarthy's novel, and they also directed it to boot. Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin, American Gangster) is hunting elk in the Texas plains when he eventually stumbles across a curious scene: several cars in a group with bodies in and outside of them that have been clearly executed. Amid this scene, Moss finds a pickup truck full of heroin. He also sees another body resting against a tree, and the body has a suitcase holding $2 million. Moss decides to take the money, but he doesn't know the type of forces that would like to get the money back. Enter Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem, Before Night Falls), a man whose purpose is to get the money and drugs back at any cost. Always seemingly one step behind them is Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones, The Fugitive), an aging sheriff in this sleepy Texas area, who has rarely seen the type of violence that he will soon witness.
My introduction to No Country For Old Men was first through the film. After I read the book, it's remarkable to see just how faithful to the source material the Coens were. Cripes, they were so devoted that the book's cover seems to have been replicated into a shot for the film! But I encourage everyone to read the book if they haven't already, because the dialogue is spot on. The film's memorable scene where Chigurh almost kills a gas station attendant? From the book. Jones' monologues? The book. The quirky Texan charm that you'd think was a Coen trademark? Book, with some minor tweaking, of course. Most everything, even down to burst carotid arteries, is in the film, even a good portion of McCarthy's narrative. It's remarkable and a textbook lesson in cinematic adaptation from one of the best creative teams out there.
That's not to say that No Country For Old Men is just about the material; the performances do the story justice, and Bardem and Jones help elevate it into instant classic territory. The Coens could have chosen anyone to play Chigurh, but Bardem does it with a near expressionless intensity that instills fear in the hearts of anyone he encounters, even those who are asked to call a flipped coin for no apparent reason. In fact, watch the scene with the big coin-toss sequence at the gas station, the one you saw in the trailers. Watch how Chigurh flips it and begins talking to the man. It's almost an inconvenience for him, like he is anticipating the annoyance that he's about to go through in explaining to the attendant the reasoning for this game of odds. Even by knowing that, you're still never going to know everything about Chigurh, and yet it helps explain the menace that much more. As the Sheriff who's getting on in years, Jones manages to use restraint in this perfor! mance, much as he did with In the Valley of Elah, and he portrays a man who grew up and remembers the early days fondly, before all the violence that he sees.
Sure, it could have used a commentary, deleted scenes, and the usual blah blah, but the Coens have been a little bit averse to doing this, so I'm not crying foul by any means. However, some of those who have seen the movie seem to have a problem with how it ends. Ironically, though, after going through the book, it seems like the Coens made the logical decision to end it where they did. If we're talking about faithfulness to the book, it seems like ending it at any other time would cheapen it, not to mention the ludicrous notion of perhaps changing the ending in such a way that there is some form of closure for them. It's insulting to the material. Besides on the higher level, anyone who had a problem with the movie's ending seemed to forget what the film's title is to begin with.
In fact, there are some smaller nods at how the introduction of a foreign element seems to change people. There are two scenes in particular, one where Moss runs into some college-age kids while crossing the border into Mexico, and another when Chigurh gets injured and two separate and younger kids find him. Money is introduced to the young boys in both scenes, and seeing how their sensibilities start to change as a result, no matter how topical, is another part of a powerful message. Sure, the drug money is the reason for the chase and is the larger character changing event, but the smaller stuff has equal resonance with me.
One thing's for sure, the 2.35:1 widescreen presentation of No Country For Old Men sure looks like an Oscar winner. It's encoded with the AVC MPEG-4, and the Texas landscapes look as good as they did in the theater. Fleshtones are very accurate, too. The opening scenes where Moss and Bell are in the midday heat, you don't see anything carryover to the skin tones which was nice to notice. In addition, the blacks remain pretty solid to boot. The feature maintains a high bit-rate throughout and was well worth watching again. The PCM soundtrack is also modestly powerful. You've got subwoofer usage during any scene with a shotgun present, and there's a fair amount of immersion and surround activity during the feature too. Less is more when it comes to this soundtrack.
Extras-wise, there are three small featurettes on the disc. You've got the usual making-of featurette that lasts about a half hour, and includes the cast's thoughts on the story and the characters they portray, including some footage of the Coens on-set. There's even some quality time with the crew members, and Bardem's haircut is even talked about. "Working With The Coens" features ten minutes of discussion around how Joel and Ethan run a set, and there are quite a few veteran cast members that talk about their time. The other piece is "Diary of a Country Sheriff," and features Jones' thoughts on the character he plays and for Chigurh; Bardem shares his two cents as well.
If there was one thing I would hold against No Country For Old Men it's that, since this is a Coen Bros. production, comparing the dialogue between Bell and his partner Wendell (Garret Dillahunt, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) to Marge and Lou in Fargo seemed to resonate with me a little bit. But after the first viewing, that notion left me quicker than a two-dollar hooker. In retrospect, it's so trivial when it comes to the film that I feel slightly ashamed to bring it up.
Let me attack the bad news first, and that's there's no more supplemental material on the disc. That's a huge bummer. But other than that, the best film of 2007 arrives onto Blu-ray in a breathtaking video display, and the film features quality performances by the cast and a story that gets better with each viewing. If you haven't seen No Country For Old Men, why are you reading this? Go pick it up; you'll thank me later.
Well, there's about a thousand words' worth of effusive praise for the film, all boiled down to a coin toss. Call it.
Review content copyright © 2008 Ryan Keefer; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (Widescreen)
* DTS HD 5.1 EX (English)
* DTS HD 5.1 EX (French)
* DTS HD 5.1 EX (Spanish)
Running Time: 120 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Commentary with Tony Gilroy and John Gilroy
* Additional Scenes with optional commentary
* Official Site
* The Cormac McCarthy Society