So what did we all learn with the Joel and Ethan Coen’s latest opus, an adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy novel No Country For Old Men? Well, suffice to say, along with the creative resurgence of the brothers, we get a film that’s part modern-day Western, part action, part comedy and even perhaps part-horror, but in the adoration and adulation, to want to pin the film down as something is to forget that above all else, the film is a tale about changing times, told by someone who’s seen better days and is nostalgic for them. It’s that story that seems to be ignored to a certain degree by people, which oddly enough is ironic considering the title of the film.
The story that’s pushed along by the film surrounds a drug deal where all the concerned parties were killed in cold blood. The bodies were found by Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin, Planet Terror), who also managed to find several million dollars in the vicinity. But as is the case in both movies and real life, that kind of money is not going to not be missed for long. So enter Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem, Before Night Falls), a man with a mysterious past. But there are a few certainties we know about him: first, he’s hired by someone to recover the money. By whom is immaterial, though through other recollections, he’s made out to be an killer with ice-cold veins, and we find this out within the film’s first several minutes, when he kills a police deputy in a gruesome fashion at a police station. So Chigurh is after the money and, inevitably, after Moss. The crimes occur in a sleepy west Texas town whose sheriff is Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones, The Fugitive), and all three men find themselves near the border in 1980, on the cusp of a serious influx of drugs to the U.S..
That last part should be discussed a little bit, because the common complaint that people have had with the film is that they were led to believe that the film is about the chase of Moss by Chigurh, but for those who’ve seen the film, I’d say that they’re missing the point about the film. First off, the film, and equally McCarthy’s book, both make the point about how times are changing for Bell, but they do it in different ways. The book shows this proclivity by Bell as an internal monologue of sorts, but the Coens take Bell and put him in more serene situations, like eating breakfast in a coffee shop, or putting more interaction with his wife before taking the horses out to the crime scene.
As for the Coens’ adaptation of the material, I’ve said before elsewhere that I’d seen the film before reading the book, and what particularly amazed me was how devoted the Coens were to the source material, right down to the gore, but the source material is so excellent that there almost seems like there’s no creative liberty taken. The witty and eccentric regional dialogue in the book is transposed word for word in most cases, and any minor accent is for the better. The absolute ending of the film might be a disappointment for some, but when it comes to the book, it actually cuts off a little bit early, which when you think about it, is probably the best point for the film to end, as there’s a little bit of postscript which seems to drag the film a little bit. All of these complaints are minor because, at the end of the day, all of the rhetoric about this film being a classic is not hollow, as Brolin is capable, Jones is restrained yet very effective, and Bardem earned his keep for his performance in the film that will last long after people might forget about the film.
Dolby Digital 5.1 surround for your enjoyment. The film itself doesn’t possess a lot of surround activity, though there’s a touch of subwoofer usage and the dialogue and other ambient effects sound as clear as they can, for what it’s worth.
2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen for you to enjoy. I’ve previously seen and loved the Blu-ray presentation of the feature, and the standard definition version is not a slouch in this regard. The disc looks a lot like how the film appeared in theaters, with slightly blown out whites, but there’s quite a bit of detail to be gained from the disc, and it’s well worth its weight in drug money.
Sure, the Coens are notoriously shy when it comes to DVD extras, save for an occasional interview in a making of featurette that lasts for about a half hour. It includes interviews with the cast and some members of the crew, as they talk about their roles in the film, what they think of McCarthy’s book, and the like. The next piece, “Working With the Coens,” is a 10-minute interview piece with longtime members of the Coens’ crew, many of whom have been around for longer than a decade with the brothers, and they talk about how they work and what makes them come back to every film. “Diary of a Country Sheriff” is the last featurette and is discusses Jones’ role, with interviews from Jones and Bardem, as they discuss their characters and the historical context of the book.
No Country For Old Men remains an extremely effective film with memorable and chilling characters, along with a post-mortem on simpler times by those who remember what things were like and pine for the proverbial good old days. The performances are excellent, not to mention the auteurs responsible for telling the story. The Coens have put another sizable notch on their creative belt, and they are rapidly making the case as perhaps the greatest American filmmakers of the last two decades. A must-own, despite the lack of substantive supplemental material.