“Some of the old time sheriffs never even wore a gun. Most folks find that hard to believe. Jim Scarborough never carried one, that’s the younger Jim. Gaston Boykins wouldn’t wear one up in Comanche County. I always liked to hear about the old timers. Never missed a chance to do so. You can’t help but compare yourself against old timers. Can’t help but wonder how they would have operated in these times.”
I know I’m getting old myself when a film set in the 1980’s is now considered a period piece. And No Country For Old Men is about as much of a period piece as anything else. More than any part of the story, it’s the mood and the atmosphere of this movie that makes it work on so many levels. Trouble is, no matter how many times you see the dang thing it doesn’t get any easier to categorize what exactly it is. Sure, it is set in the 1980’s, but truth be told it could have just as well been set in the 1880’s. Has West Texas even changed all that much in those 100 years? Watch this movie and you’ll be asking the same question. No Country For Old Men is as much a western as it is anything else. Some call it a “modern western”, but I don’t like that term a whole lot. I mean, when you stop and think about it, what exactly is a “modern western”? I guess you could just as easily answer, No Country For Old Men.
“There’s this boy I sent to the electric chair at Huntsville here a while back. My arrest, and my testimony. He killed a 14 year old girl. Paper said it was a crime of passion. But, he told me there weren’t any passion to it. Told me he’d planned to kill somebody for as long as he could remember. Said if they turned him out, he’d do it again. Said he knew he was going to Hell, be there in 15 minutes. I don’t know what to make of that. I sure don’t.”
If the film is about anything at all, it’s the various kinds of human nature. The movie is a rather detailed character study of three kinds of people and their inherent natures. If you’ve seen the film, it will be a long time before you can get the image of Javier Bardem as the ruthless killer, Anton Chigurh (pronounced sugar), out of your mind. He’s about the coldest, most calculated killer that’s ever made it to the silver screen. He’s your worst Tarrantino nightmare. I don’t know if it’s his matter of fact nature or the odd compression bolt weapon and shotgun with a huge silencer that he uses. But Anton Chigurh is the stuff dreams are made out of, bad ones. He is the perfect sociopath. He stands completely detached from the human race about him. He’s motivated by his mission, to recover the bag of money.
Next on the list has to be the character of Llewellyn Moss, played by Josh Brolin. He’s about as close to the average joe as the movie provides. He’s minding his own business when he stumbles upon the aftermath of a drug deal gone horribly wrong. Out in the hot son of the West Texas desert he finds vehicles riddled with bullet holes, and the human bodies of the men who brought them here. All but one has been dead for some time and is rotting under the unforgiving heat. He finds a truck filled with drugs. Apparently the deal never got completed. If anyone had survived, they would have most assuredly taken the drugs with them. And he’s smart enough to reason that where there’s a shipment of undelivered drugs, there’s a large cache of money waiting to be exchanged. He reasons out the most logical path the money man could have taken, and sure enough under a nearby tree he finds a bag packed with money. What would you do? I think we’d all be tempted to do what Moss does. He takes the money and some of the guns and takes it home. It’s enough money to get almost whatever he wants. What it buys him is an eventual show down with Chigurh.
Finally we have the good guy in all of this. Tommy Lee Jones is no stranger to playing lawmen. Hell, he’s even played West Texas sheriffs before. But this is a different Tommy Lee Jones and a very different sheriff. This sheriff is troubled by what he sees as a moral decay of the entire country. He’s not as steadfast or even as brave as Jones has made a living out of playing these characters. This is a man that’s having a constant dialog with himself about the state of affairs he finds himself in. He’s just not sure how to make sense of any of it.
“The crime you see now, it’s hard to even take its measure. It’s not that I’m afraid of it. I always knew you had to be willing to die to even do this job. But, I don’t want to push my chips forward and go out and meet something that I don’t understand. A man would have to put his soul at hazard. He’d have to say, ‘OK. I’ll be a part of this world’.”
We all know by now that No Country For Old Men became last year’s “must see” Academy Awards Best Picture. Unlike this year’s more ambiguous Slumdog Millionaire, this one really was the best film I’d seen in 2007. It’s already been out on DVD for nearly a year, so what does this Blu-ray version of the film have to offer that the previous release didn’t? The answer is quite simple: Everything. You have not seen this film at all if your only experience has been the previous DVD. I can only imagine what the theater experience was. I was unfortunate enough to have missed that opportunity. This is as close as it gets. The Coen Brothers are renowned for their attention to detail in every aspect of filmmaking. Perhaps it’s a benefit of having two sets of eyes and two minds to work it all out. When you watch a Coen Brothers film you expect an entire motion picture experience, and that means from the selection of the cast down to every second in the editing room. Nothing is ever left to chance, and the effort becomes easily noticeable up on the screen. What better way to bring that level of competence to the home audience than through the wonders of high definition? The cinematography is outstanding. The location shoot surpasses anything I’ve seen before. How about a movie that depicts acts of incredible violence and is overwhelmingly effective without the need to resort to camera trickery like fast edits or super slow motion ala 300? The Coens let the images speak for themselves. It’s brave. Too often “stylish” filming is merely there to hide the scene’s glaring deficiencies. In this movie, everything is out there for you to see. I’m glad to see that kind of approach richly rewarded. This is a movie you must have in your Blu-ray collection, or honestly, you don’t have much of a collection.
No Country For Old Men is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. You’ll get a very strong 1080p image brought to you by the almost standard AVC/MPEG-4 codec. This film also deserved to win the award for cinematography. The picture is beautifully shot, bringing to life a very dead looking place like the deserts of West Texas. The detail here is extraordinary. You can see the dust kick up every time someone walks. Look at the cracks in the lips of the drug deal survivor. How often do you see this level of attention to the minute details of a piece? The answer is almost never. I’ll admit that I did encounter a couple of isolated compression problems. Perhaps a second disc here for extras was warranted. Black levels are above average. The color is desaturated intentionally to add that ultra realistic look you get particularly in the location vistas. Unfortunately, flesh tones suffer just a bit. I would have preferred just a little more color.
The DTS-HD Master Audio track is becoming something of a standard as of late. It has certainly been the most common format in the last few Blu-ray discs I’ve watched. It’s a pretty good choice when measured by these results. We’re talking 4 mbps of uncompressed audio. Dialog comes through with remarkable clarity, but more importantly it feels like it’s coming from the place you’re seeing. A big problem I’m having as the audio gets better and better on these things, is an unnatural quality to the sound. When people talk, the acoustics of their voice don’t match the environment of the movie. That’s more a problem of the increased use of ADR on most films today. Here there was obvious attention paid to matching those qualities, and you would be surprised how effective that small detail is to immersing you into the movie experience. Surrounds come alive when there’s action. Gun play surrounds you in its intensity. I was extremely impressed with Carter Burwell’s often minimalist score. It makes the hairs on your arms stand up, it’s that dang good.
All but one of these features is in SD.:
The Making Of No Country For Old Men: Cast and crew provide plenty of back story and insight into the film in this 24 minute feature. I never read the book, but there’s a lot of talk about the book here, and all seem to agree this is a very faithful adaptation of the original work. It’s terribly obvious the Coens are extremely uncomfortable being interviewed. It goes a long way to explain why these kinds of features are rare on their films home releases.
Working With The Coens: Consider this an 8 minute praise and love fest by the cast and crew for the sibling co-directors.
Diary Of A Country Sheriff: I’m not sure why this piece is named what it is. It does touch a bit on Tommy Lee Jones and his character, but it talks about all three of the leads here.
Josh Brolin’s Unauthorized Behind The Scenes: While this 9 minute feature does provide some fleeting glimpses behind the scenes, Brolin is mostly yucking it up.
Press Timeline: This is a large collection of interview clips from various appearances of cast and the Coen Brothers. There’s about 3 hours total, but you have to use this on screen timeline and click on each. They cover a lot of common ground. Some of these are from radio and are audio only.
This is the kind of film that will leave you with strong images and feelings when you’re done watching it. It doesn’t really matter what your overall opinion of the movie ends up being. It will leave its mark either way. That’s a rare thing in Hollywood today. One could call it powerful. “How powerful? Compared to what, the Bubonic Plague?”