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No Country For Old Men: Three-Disc Collector's Edition
Forgive me for my brevity during the opening portion of this review, but Joel and Ethan Coen's No Country For Old Men has been reviewed to death in less than two short years. This suspenseful and deeply immersive film has been warmly received since its release in November of 2007, going on to win four of eight Academy Award nominations...not to mention countless other accolades. Most have described No Country For Old Men as the Coens' best work since the like-minded Fargo, and it's not hard to see why: both showcase a tense struggle between good and evil, spurred by a plan gone wrong. This describes the bulk of the Coens' work, of course, but No Country For Old Men's themes of isolation, tragedy and unstoppable evil are pushed strictly to the forefront here.
Unlike their previous films, No Country For Old Men has been adapted from source material and not written from scratch. Cormac McCarthy's 2005 novel proved to be an excellent showcase for their distinct cinematic style, which preserves the heart of the story without stepping on any toes. Our tale centers around three men: Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), Vietnam vet Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) and the dastardly Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem). In short, Moss has found a suitcase full of money that Chigurh is after, while Bell tries to make sense of the murder and mayhem that ensues during this game of cat-and-mouse. Bell also manages to take a backseat as the events unfold, hovering over the drama like a narrator attempting to decipher his own story. This strikes an effective balance during the film's unusually-paced lifespan, which just so happens to take a drastic turn with moments to spare. Combining equal parts thriller, drama and black comedy, there's an undeniable weight to the events that unfold.
From start to finish, No Country For Old Men grips the audience by any means necessary, though most new viewers will be surprised at the film's sudden outbursts of violence---and despite your gut reaction, our story doesn't promote hopelessness and despair. The strict focus on chaos and fate, mostly spurred by the coin-flipping moral code of Chigurh himself, never overshadows the plaintive presence of Bell, who yearns for "the good old days" without realizing that they may have never existed. No Country For Old Men offers hope in the midst of such unbridled ugliness, whether you manage to see it right away or not. Though Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood---another film on many critics' Top 10 lists for 2007---may have shown us a more linear, realistic depiction of selfishness and evil, No Country For Old Men manages to bring more subtlety to the table. Aside from the cattle gun, of course.
Originally released last year as a one-disc edition (available in standard-def or Blu-Ray formats, just after the death knell of HD DVD), No Country For Old Men came equipped with a solid technical presentation and a small assortment of decent bonus features. For fans of the Coen brothers, that's about all we'd normally expect...but this new three-disc Collector's Edition ups the ante with plenty of added content. Though nearly all of it contains some amount of overlap, it's hard to complain when the plate's been filled so generously---and for those bemoaning the lack of an audio commentary, it's not like we didn't see that one coming. For now, only one question remains: is this double-dip is worth hunting down, or should fans stick with what they've already purchased?
Presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and enhanced for 16x9 displays, No Country For Old Men looks quite good from start to finish. Having first seen this film in a theater with digital projection, it can't help but lose some of its impact when viewed on standard-definition DVD...but within the limitations of the medium, this is a perfectly acceptable presentation. The stylized color palette has been rendered faithfully, while image detail remains relatively sharp from start to finish. A few of the nighttime sequences suffer slightly along the way, but this looks to be a source material issue and nothing more. Overall, fans of the film won't find much to complain about here.
Likewise, the Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround mix (also available in a Spanish dub) carries its own weight. No Country For Old Men is a disarmingly quiet film at times, which makes sudden outbursts all the more affecting. The rear channels are used frequently for ambience (and LFE, to a lesser extent), while most of the dialogue is anchored squarely up front. Optional English captions and French or Spanish subtitles have been included during the main feature and most of the applicable extras.
Disc Two includes a number of new interviews, featurettes and promotional tidbits. Our first and only stand-alone extra here is "Josh Brolin's Unauthorized Behind-the-Scenes Featurette" (9:19, below left), which covers some of the same ground as the piece on Disc One. In contrast, however, this is a much more laid-back and tongue-in-cheek affair, complete with sarcastic comments and "production secrets". This one's definitely a highlight, despite its brevity and slight overlap with the previous featurette.
The following collection of extras is organized chronologically (from 10/26/07 to 2/9/08), though a "random" feature is also available. First up is an IKLIPZ Lunch Interview with Javier Bardem and Josh Brolin (26:29), a low-key but cordial sit-down with the two actors. Bardem and Brolin have a great camaraderie and play off each other quite well, which makes for an enjoyable watch. Next is a WGAW Q&A Panel (24:12), recorded in Los Angeles and featuring the Coens, Bardem, Brolin, Kelly MacDonald (Moss' wife, Carla Jean) and Tommy Lee Jones, who joins in right before the 10 minute mark. The stammering moderator has trouble keeping things moving at first, but this session picks up nicely once the audience gets to ask a few questions. Continuing the group-interview theme is a Variety Screening Series Q&A with Brolin, MacDonald and Bardem (3:08), which doesn't overlap much with the previous piece during its truncated running time.
Next up is an EW.com "Just A Minute" Interview with Javier Bardem (12:55), which deals specifically with his experiences on the set and his thoughts on the characters. He's very candid and cordial during this session, digging slightly below the surface while providing a few laughs along the way. The stand-alone interviews continue with a Creative Writing Podcast featuring the Coens and hosted by Jeff Goldsmith (21:26). It's a little more polished and fast-moving than some of the previous sessions, which mainly discusses their tandem approach to writing and directing. We also get an NPR's All Things Considered Audio Interview with Josh Brolin (4:45), which focuses on general thoughts about his character and the production experience.
Also here is an ABC "Popcorn" Session hosted by Peter Travers (14:50), featuring additional interviews with Bardem, Brolin and MacDonald. This featurette is much more promotional in nature than some of the others, though it's short enough to breeze through. Of greater interest is an unspecified In-Store Appearance with Bardem and Brolin (40:29), in which the actors shed more light on their characters and the on-set experience. Brolin even goes into moderate detail about his infamous audition tape, though the finished product isn't included here. Also of interest is a Charlie Rose Interview Session with the Coens, Brolin and Bardem (22:32, below left), which doesn't stray from the show's usual format. This is a typically enjoyable roundtable discussion and even includes the full-length theatrical trailer (which, unfortunately, hasn't been included as a stand-alone extra on this disc).
Continuing the sit-down sessions is a WNBC Reel Talk Interview with Josh Brolin (10:02), during which the actor shares a bit about his distinguished year...and, of course, more thoughts about the film and his participation in it. Also here is a rather rough Channel 4 News Segment featuring Joel and Ethan Coen (3:45), which seems a bit extraneous but is here for completion's sake. Next up is a Radio Interview from KCRW's The Treatment featuring the Coens, which is hosted by Elvis Mitchell (22:14). This is also a bit superfluous by now, though the brothers do a decent job of not overlapping with some of the previous segments. We also get a segment from NPR's Day To Day program (6:39), which features Javier Bardem talking about his film experience and the actor's recent Golden Globe win.
Up next is a true highlight of the bonus features: an Extended Q&A Session with the Coens, cinematographer Roger Deakins and members of the sound and production design teams (60:44, above right), moderated by the one and only Spike Jonze. If nothing else, it's refreshing to see a few new faces in the spotlight, though the regulars do a fine job of keeping things entertaining. Closing out the bonus features is another installment of NPR's All Things Considered, this time featuring executive producer Scott Rudin (7:51), as well as a segment from NPR's Weekend Edition featuring the Coens (5:33). Both audio-only interviews are perfectly enjoyable in their own right...but again, it's especially nice to hear things from a slightly different perspective.
Disc Three, of course, contains a Digital Copy of the main feature, along with a unique access code to download it.
There's no doubt that this is quite an extensive list of extras, totaling over five and a half hours in all (thanks to the compression of several audio-only interviews). It's above and beyond what most Collector's Editions offer in terms of quantity, and there's no doubt that an audio commentary wouldn't have added much to the proceedings. With that said, the repetitive format of this content, though somewhat alleviated by its thoughtful organization, all but ensures that it won't be watched in one sitting. Nearly all of the content here feels promotional on some level, so a retrospective featurette---or even a few other participants, at least---would've spiced things up a bit. The lack of a stand-alone poster/trailer/teaser gallery is also unfortunate. With that said, there's a great deal to dig through here, and it's highly doubtful that fans have seen the majority of this content.
All bonus features are presented in 1.33:1 and letterboxed widescreen, though everything includes optional English, Spanish and French subtitles...except the audio interviews, which is somewhat understandable. This is a commendable gesture on Buena Vista's part, so here's hoping that more studios continue to follow suit.
Easily one of 2007's most impressive films, No Country For Old Men stands tall as one of the Coens' finest efforts---and with such a richly enjoyable back catalogue, that's certainly saying something. The film's lenient, almost mystical pacing loosely resembles Fargo or even The Man Who Wasn't There, creating a desolate but immersive atmosphere for our characters to drift through. More than anything else, though, No Country For Old Men doubles as a quiet meditation and a wake-up call: violence will always exist, but there's a light at the end of the tunnel. Buena Vista's second attempt at a DVD release yields decent results: the technical presentation remains the same, while the new extras provide several hours' worth of added value. This new Collector's Edition has traveled less than a year to get here---but unless you're completely sold on the bonus features, you may have to flip a coin to decide. Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in a local gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, second-guessing himself and writing things in third person.