'No Country for Old Men' - Blu-ray Review


You certainly don't need me telling you how fantastic Joel and Ethan Coen's No Country for Old Men is. Based on the award-winning Cormac McCarthy novel, this was the film that (finally) snagged the Coens some long-deserved Oscar adulation, and it's one of the smartest, oddest, and most effortlessly engrossing "crime story" flicks of the past twenty years. And like the best of the Coen films (my favorites are Raising Arizona, Miller's Crossing, The Hudsucker Proxy, Fargo, and O Brother, Where Art Thou?) No Country for Old Men is a giant meal of a movie the first time around ... but it gets exponentially more interesting upon repeat viewings.

But I can hear what you're thinking. (Not literally.) You're wondering what makes this very fine film qualify for dissection on FEARnet? Fair enough. My goal was to watch the film from a "horror perspective," and let me tell you, once the film began, it sure didn't take much effort on my behalf. The plot is a smoothly simple one -- although it quickly gets rather contorted, which means the flick actually expects you to pay attention. A tough-but-decent nobody called Moss (an excellent Josh Brolin) chances upon a sack full of millions, thus beginning a nightmare with Moss caught between the forces of weary good (Tommy Lee Jones) and ice-cold evil (Javier Bardem). Impressive that such a basic (and slightly familiar) premise could yield a 2+-hour film that flies by like a rocket, but there you go. "Impressive" is nothing new to Joel and Ethan Coen.

There are many ways to "take" No Country for Old Men. Of course, on a surface level, it's simply a smartly-written and powerfully unpredictable little crime story. On a larger scale, it could be a metaphor for the ways in which ruthless evil will always defeat basic nobility ... simply because evil doesn't follow any rule books. But, like all great fiction, No Country for Old Men is precisely what each viewer chooses to see it as. (To their inestimable credit, the Coen brothers have always shied away from "explaining" their films.) But if you go in to this film 'looking' for a horror story, well, you certainly won't have to look very far.

In simplest terms, No Country for Old Men showcases one of most memorable villains you'll ever see. Portrayed flawlessly by Javier Bardem, the nefarious Anton Chigurh is simply captivating in his oozing evilness. Brutal, ruthless, methodical, and in every way devoid of basic human mercy, Chigurh starts to feel like less of a "flesh & blood" killer, and more like an unstoppable force of nature. Fans of "basic" horror will delight in Chigurh's numerous sequences of massive malevolence, but the really 'scary stuff' of No Country for Old Men lies in the subtext that good guys don't always (or often) win, that pure evil is a particularly unpredictable beast, and that once you open Pandora's Box, there's simply no stopping the beasts that pour out. The darker themes are (of course) offset by the oddly lyrical dialog, a few moments of absurd, dark humor, and a visual palette that reminds us we're playing on a much larger field than just "three disparate guys and a big bag of cash."

Basically, No Country for Old Men is a lot of things, aside from tense, brilliant, and smoothly hypnotic: It's a neo-western adventure thriller character study that's both a very dry comedy and a rather straight-faced horror story. And now that the film is available on Blu-Ray ... wow. One would think that the first Blu-Ray I'd reach for (EVER!) would be a loud action flick (like Iron Man) or a beautifully atmospheric monster movie (like The Mist), but instead I opted for a more sedate form of flashiness, and I'm glad I did. Roger Deakins' flawless cinematography -- from sun-soaked Texas flatlands to dank hotel rooms filled with foreboding shadows -- is nothing short of astonishing, and while I'm certainly no technophile when it comes to DVD resolution, I can say that this is one of the finest-looking movie experiences that I've ever had outside of a high-end screening room. The audio presentation is also a much-improved experience: Dialog this sly and smart deserves every little nuance, and both the sound design and Carter Burwell's powerful score are given the treatment they deserve on the Blu.

No Country for Old Men first hit DVD (both standard and Blu-Ray) back in March of 2007, and those discs came with a trio oif featurettes: Diary of a County Sheriff, Working with the Coens, and The Making of No Country for Old Men -- but this rather fantastic new 3-disc Blu-Ray edition remedies that shortcoming. (Disc 1 is the movie and the three original featurettes, and Disc 3 is nothing but a "digital copy, so Disc 2 is where you'll find all the new goodies.) Virtually all of the new supplements come in the form of promo-style video interviews from during the film's release and awards push, but there's a pretty impressive array of perspectives here, and YES, some of the footage actually includes input from those camera-shy Coens. We're talking HOURS of interviews, from sources as mixed as NPR, Charlie Rose, Entertainment Weekly, Peter Travers, Reel Talk, David Poland, and a handful of Los Angeles entertainment outlets. Truth be told I'm only about halfway through this overstuffed package of supplementary sweetness.

Yes, you've probably already seen (and enjoyed) No Country for Old Men before, but (like I said earlier), very few filmmakers deserve (nay, demand!) repeat viewings the way Joel and Ethan Coen do. The best of their films are bittersweet cinematic onions that only reveal their flavor once you peel a few layers away, and clearly No Country for Old Men ranks among the best of the Coen's films.