Judge Paul Pritchard originally mistook this release for a Jeffrey Dean Morgan collection.
Our reviews of Biutiful (Blu-ray) (published May 26th, 2011), No Country For Old Men (published March 17th, 2008), No Country For Old Men (Blu-Ray) (published March 11th, 2008), and No Country For Old Men: 2-Disc Collector's Edition (Blu-Ray) (published April 7th, 2009) are also available.
"What business is it of yours where I'm from, friendo? "
With his role in the current Bond movie Skyfall earning him widespread recognition, the good people at Lionsgate decided it's a good time to offer a retrospective of Javier Bardem's career. Bringing together two films from his native Spain (Biutiful and Mondays in the Sun) with his American debut (No Country For Old Men), this set is—if not comprehensive—certainly an attractive proposition.
Facts of the Case
• In Biutiful, Javier Bardem plays Uxbal, a man desperately trying to make a living so that he can provide for his two young children. Forced into a life of crime, Uxbal is only too aware of the ugly side to life in the otherwise picturesque Barcelona. When he is diagnosed with inoperable cancer, Uxbal is forced to consider the decisions he has made. With time running out, he sets about making right his wrongs, while looking for someone who will care for his children when he is gone.
• No Country For Old Men is the Coen Brothers (True Grit) adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy novel of the same name, in which Bardem plays Chigurh, a remorseless killer on the trail of Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin, The Goonies), who has made off with two million dollars belonging to Chigurh's employers. Standing in between the two men is the aging Sheriff, Ed Tom Bell. As the level of violence escalates, Bell struggles to comprehend the enormity of the situation, leaving him to question whether he is any longer up to the task.
• Fernando León de Aranoa's lightly comic drama, Mondays in the Sun, sees Bardem in the role of Santa, an unemployed dockworker who spends his days bemoaning his situation with his group of friends. Spending most of their time at the local bar, or on rare occasions attending interviews for jobs they know they have no chance of getting, the friends must come to terms with their situation as it threatens to destroy them.
Biutiful truly is an exceptional film, and yet due purely to the raw emotions director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (21 Grams) and his writing partner Nicolás Giacobone are able to evoke, it is not a film I expect to sit through again anytime soon. There's no doubting the fact that Inarritu lays the gloom on a bit thick, which will lead a good many viewers to label the film as depressing; and while this is a view I can readily understand, one shouldn't let this detract from the small—yet no less uplifting—moments of unexpected kindness that are almost overwhelmingly reassuring.
Throughout the film's often-arduous 148-minute running time, Inarritu explores a number of themes, the most pertinent of which are the themes of fatherhood, guilt, and trust. Bardem gives arguably his finest performance to date as Uxbal, a seemingly good man who, not solely through his own fault, exists on the edges of society. His facing up to his impending death highlights the hopes and fears that parenthood brings.
The bleakness at times threatens to overshadow Uxbal's story. As he faces up to his own mortality—having been diagnosed with untreatable cancer—he sets about attempting to do some good, and, most importantly, offer some kind of security to his children. Yet at every turn, Uxbal finds himself either let down by others, or sees his good intentions end in tragedy. The relationship Uxbal shares with his children is the most difficult aspect of the film to watch. The small apartment they share is in great need of repair, and the meager food Uxbal is able to provide them offers little flavor or sustenance. When his wife, from whom he is separated, reappears, Uxbal makes a genuine attempt to reconcile with her in the hope that in the short time he has left, he can help her become the mother their children will need when he has gone. Maricel Álvarez, who plays Marambra gives a performance that matches Bardem stride for stride. Marambra suffers from bipolar disorder, which—just like Uxbal—makes her a morally complex character. Her actions become increasingly troubling—especially towards her young son—yet knowing her disorder (which she refuses treatment for) is behind this, it is difficult to incriminate her without having sympathy towards her condition.
As a parent, the hopelessness felt by Uxbal's regarding his predicament proved impossible not to empathize with. Nobody wants to leave their children behind, but the thought that there is no other family member to look after them is just about the bleakest prospect any of us could face. Fittingly, considering the tone set throughout, Inarritu refuses to offer what one would call a traditional happy ending. Still, thanks to a final sequence that is sure to live long in the memory, he does at least end Biutiful on a positive note that is truly in keeping with the film's title.
Biutiful possesses a really quite stunning transfer. The picture is razor sharp, with a high level of detail—most noticeable in the way it depicts Uxbal's deterioration—and bright, vivid colors that are often in sharp contrast to the world depicted in the film. As is the case with the rest of this set, Biutiful carries over the extras from the film's previous DVD release. A collection of videos made by the director whilst making the movie are brought together in the "Director's Flipbook" featurette, while a selection of cast interviews and an introduction to the crew round out the set.
Few films in recent years have earned the plaudits bestowed upon the Coen Brothers' No Country For Old Men. Yet for all that the film gets right, and despite a succession of truly great scenes, I cannot quite fathom how the film is so frequently referred to as a masterpiece, as—for me at least—it falls just short of such an accolade. My primary concerns stem from the fact that, emotionally, the film is something of a void. Save for Tommy Lee Jones' Tom Bell, and possibly Kelly Macdonald's vulnerable Carla Jean, there is nobody for the viewer to invest in or care about. Furthermore, the film's two lead characters, Llewelyn Moss and Anton Chigurh, lack any hidden depths. They exhibit a single character trait and never change tack. As their game of cat and mouse unfolds, and the body count increases, one is left to wonder whether No Country For Old Men is nothing more than an upmarket The Terminator, with Bardem playing the unstoppable killing machine. Likewise, the film is almost alarmingly linear. No twists or deviations exist here; this is a simple story of the hunter and the hunted—the only real surprise comes when the film's climax occurs offscreen.
Yet, I still find myself drawn to the film and find it totally captivating, thanks primarily to how the unfolding story is seen through the eyes of the aging Tom Bell.
As we get older, our views on the world change. The character of Tom Bell has reached the point where he no longer recognizes the world around him. Chigurh's rampage leaves Bell feeling perplexed, outdated, and not a little frightened. In all his years as sheriff, Bell has never come across a man who will kill purely for the sake of it—as appears to be the case with Chigurh—and it forces him to question whether he is up to the task. In the absence of a real finale for Moss, the film instead opts to close out by offering a conclusion for Bell.
It's not just a little frustrating then that—considering the final act all but confirms this is Bell's story—the Coens opted to reduce his role to that of a supporting player. Chigurh and Moss lack Bell's depth, and it is Bell who serves as the film's moral compass. The very reason the climax is never shown is that, simply put, it's not important. It is Bell's reaction to the aftermath—rather than the event itself—that is key. Bell is a man just off the pace, who increasingly finds himself lacking the drive to attempt to catch up with a world he is losing touch with. The film's final 20 minutes are truly masterful, with Tommy Lee Jones at the very top of his game. His scene with Barry Corbin is revelatory, while the closing scene in which he describes his dreams proves to be both touching and hard to shake. As Barry Corbin's Ellis points out, it's not the world that changes, just our perception of it.
No Country For Old Men is a film blessed with a wonderful cast. Despite my reservations about having Moss take the lead (the book is very much Bell's story), Josh Brolin is his usual brilliant self. Brolin brings a steely determination to Moss that, coupled with his clearly strong set of ethics, ensures that we root for him and get caught up in his increasingly desperate situation. Bardem is excellent as Chigurh. An expressionless face that betrays his lack of humanity, allied to his distinctive voice, makes him a frequently terrifying adversary. Woody Harrelson makes a memorable, albeit short, appearance, but it's Jones and Macdonald who own this film.
Though superseded by its Blu-ray release, the DVD version of No Country For Old Men still looks excellent. The vast, barren landscapes that make up much of the film's opening half are full of detail, with a color palette that maintains a brown tint throughout. The sparse soundtrack also impresses, with natural sounds taking the place of a traditional score. The extras are the same as those found on the previous single disc release. "The Making of No Country For Old Men" is pretty standard stuff. Clocking in at around 25 minutes, we are afforded nothing more than a brief look at the film's production. "Working with the Coens" is nothing more than a fluff piece, where everyone talks about how grey it is to work with Joel and Ethan. Finally "Diary of a Country Sheriff" allows Tommy Lee Jones to discuss his role in the film.
Mondays in the Sun is by far the most undemanding and easygoing film in this collection, despite it dealing with a group of working-class men who find themselves disenfranchised following years of unemployment. Writer-director Fernando León de Aranoa skilfully blends the damaging effects of unemployment—both on the individual and the state—with a lightly comic tale of four friends attempting to make the best of their situation.
One's opinion of the film will largely boil down to their personal tolerance for a story that is decidedly light on dramatic incident. For the most part, the film follows an apparently aimless narrative, leaving it to live and die on the strength of its characters alone. In this regard, the film is something of a mixed bag. One the one hand, it's impossible not to like and sympathize with these men; on the other hand their individual plights are never explored as intricately as they deserve. This decision to paint in broader strokes means that, for example, Jose's (Luis Tosar, Cell 211) marital strife—born from his sense of having been emasculated—fails to resonate as strongly as it should have.
Thankfully, Aranoa's frequently amusing script keeps the film moving along nicely, and while the comedy is never gut-bustingly funny, it's sure to keep a smile on the face. One of the most amusing scenes sees Bardem's Santa reading "The Ant and the Grasshopper" to a young boy he is babysitting to make a little extra money. Having taken in the stories message of how those who work hard are rewarded, while those who don't are left to starve, Santa launches into a tirade that leaves the poor child dumbfounded. One of the more affecting strands surrounds Lino (José Ángel Egido), the oldest member of the group, as he struggles to face up to his diminishing chances of ever finding work again. Regardless of your country of origin, Lino's plight is a (sad) truth all of us can relate to.
Though hopelessly outmatched by the other two films in this set, Mondays in the Sun is still a worthy inclusion, not least as it offers a chance to enjoy Bardem in a more comical role.
The DVD of Mondays in the Sun is exactly the same as the Meridian Collection release put out in 2008. As such, we get the same inconsistent transfer that shows signs of damage to the print, and on occasion is plagued by excessive dirt. The audio fares better, with a robust 5.1 Spanish track hindered only by the English subtitles that appear out of sync on more than one occasion. A commentary track featuring Bardem and director Fernando Leon de Aranda is the highlight of the supplemental materials, and offers a much better insight into the film than the brief making of that is also included. Deleted scenes and storyboard comparisons round out the set.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
It seems churlish criticizing this set for a lack of new content, as—for the price it retails at—you're getting two excellent films and one merely very good. Still, for anyone who owns any of these films individually, it would most likely be cheaper to pick up the others separately.
Assuming you have none of the titles in this set, there really is no reason not to buy the Javier Bardem 3-Film Collection) if you are a fan of Javier Bardem, interested in his work following his appearance in Skyfall, or simply looking for three films containing both real substance and excellent performances. Highly recommended.
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