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No Country for Old Men - Two-Disc Collector's Edition

Miramax // R // April 7, 2009
List Price: $39.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted April 7, 2009 | E-mail the Author
The Film:

No Country for Old Men could possibly be described as a cautionary tale, though we care more about the danger created from its conflict than we do about the warning it's issuing to us. It could also be a comedy of sorts, funneling the Coen Brothers' snarky wit into a tremendously exhilarating story, but it's liable to make its audience wonder whether they should be laughing or not. First and foremost, it's rooted around suspense that uses the dusty streets, hotels and sidewalk shops of '80s southwestern Americana as its backdrop, yet that's certainly not the only intrigue to its complex nature. With heavy dueling gunfire and blood gushing aplenty, it'd even be feasible to get away with tossing it into the horror and Western genres.

So, really, what kind of a film is No Country for Old Men? It's a Joel and Ethan Coen picture, and possibly their finest. Carrying over a filtered sense of humor from the Coen's comedy work while also reflecting back to their grittier roots, No Country is a genre-defying picture that takes shape mostly due to the mysterious appeal generated by its many focuses. Everything it does well collides together into a terse, furiously realized motion picture, one that marvelously tippy-toes back and forth between the directors' signature attributes.

Adapted from Cormac McCarthy's novel, a first for the Coens, No Country for Old Men is a deceptively simple film. It's about a rough-and-tumble cowboy named Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) who stumbles onto a case of drug money after taking a somewhat-leisurely hunting trip through the Rio Grande. With bloodshed surrounding the site, and a wealth of heroin in the bed of a nearby truck, he's pretty certain of the money's purpose -- and aims to find a way for him and his wife (Kelly Macdonald) to keep it. The surrounding dead bodies aren't the only ones aware of the loot's existence, however; enter Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), a deeply enigmatic killer without rhyme or reason that also holds claim on the drug money. It'd take a pretty vicious entity to lower the rather tough Llewelyn to the level of runner in a cat-and-mouse game, but this coin-flipping, cattle gun-using psycho does exactly that.

Followed by Heath Legder's Supporting Actor Oscar for The Joker in The Dark Knight, Javier Bardem's performance marks the first of two consecutive villains of somewhat iconic status to garner the attention of Academy voters. His role as Anton, however, operates as the true driving force behind No Country for Old Men, whereas the other complexities of Gotham City twist and mingle around Ledger's performance. Though Llewelyn's scramble to safety with the cash works as an engaging focal point for the story, it's in Anton's intensity as the complicated, cold-blooded yet oddly justified killer that sparks an undeniable magnetism within the Coen Brothers' film. After seeing Bardem in several other successful roles following his No Country success, namely in Goya's Ghosts and Vicky Christina Barcelona, it's become quite clear that he's a very talented actor -- but there's a marriage struck between him and the Coens' style of intoxicating uneasiness that works beyond measure.

His chase for Llelwyn builds into a devastating gauntlet of suspenseful sequences, all of which bridge towards one mammoth nail-biter at the center of No Country that showcases the true meticulousness behind the Coen Brothers' talent. Taking place in a dark two-story hotel, it uses painstakingly photographed darkness and space-conscious sound design to invoke a sense of claustrophobia. Much like Stanley Kubrick's usage of Danny's tricycle ride in circles around the Overlook Hotel in The Shining, a simple ringing of a phone lends finiteness to the abyssal expanses outside of the hotel room door. It's an abyss that could likely contain a killer armed with something that's rapidly become an iconic weapon alongside Leatherface's chainsaw or Freddie's knife-fingered glove. And, just when you're expecting it to fizzle into a dissatisfying cliché, it delivers a wallop of a payoff that lends justice to that urging for the audience to inch closer and closer to the edge of their seat.

The flipside of No Country for Old Men's coin revolves around the manhunt set out for both of these men, led by the well-weathered and pensive Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones). Once he enters the picture to a more substantial degree, the partition between the Coen Brothers' directorial styles can clearly be seen. Anton's chase after Llewelyn taps hard into the unrelenting tension of Miller's Crossing and Blood Simple, while the dry humor and simmering humanism present within the law enforcement's pursuit looks back on the Academy Award-nominated Fargo. It's when these two styles flip-flop between the segmented stories -- and they do, repeatedly -- that the film dives towards striking levels of depth and pensiveness. It lends humor to a cowboy's fearful run from death and drives fear into a near-retired sheriff who has seen his share of the ugly corners of the world. This triangle of compelling characters that Bardem, Brolin, and Tommy Lee Jones construct sparks our concentration in ways that many quirky films fail to do, giving us a medley of adrenaline, strength, lunacy, age, and weathered wisdom that burrow to the center of the film and, intermittently, toss us clues regarding their mental complications.

As we're taken through this sumptuously-shot collage of blood-soaked clothing and dusty vistas, No Country for Old Men persistently reflects on the idea that these events will forever linger in the minds of those involved. Anton's heartless drive comes to a puzzling close in a way that likely won't top most cinema lover's list of favorites, yet there's a world of thoughtfulness within its challenging nature that lingers long after the credits -- leaving its audience in a similarly thoughtful stupor to those individuals in the story. Ultimately, it builds into an allegory that harks on lost innocence and the depth of mind within mentally-damaged, aging men, one that blends intricate humor with harrowing suspense into a concoction that easily earns its label as one of 2007's finest films. The Coen Brothers look like they'll continue their hopscotch between genres -- as obvious by their recent lighter fare in the immensely enjoyable Burn After Reading -- but none of their pictures will likely be as exquisitely realized as their breathless trek behind a menacing man with a bolt gun.

The Blu-ray

Miramax's second foray with No Country for Old Men, this Collector's Edition, comes in an attractively-presented two-disc Blu-ray case with a nice matte/raised slipcover that fits snugly over the package. The Digital Copy (Disc 2 of the Set) materials can be found with the rest of the advertisements inside, along with a rebate form for those that purchased either of the previous two editions (DVD or Blu-ray).

Video and Audio:

In the middle of one of Blu-ray's first waves of double-dips, this Collector's Edition of No Country for Old Men bouts with a pretty damn fine initial release. Used by many as a slick demo disc for both 1080p lavishness and the explosive punch that a PCM track can muster, the first release was very successful quality-wise -- except in the supplement department, which will be discussed later on (hint: it's worth the dip). Those expecting any form of leap in visual strength over the previous edition will be disappointed, as the identically-framed, 1080p AVC encode looks, by and large, exactly the same when tested next to the previous release. That's a good thing though, as it shows that Miramax didn't tinker with an already strong image.

Detail and color saturation in both flesh tones and remote splashes of color are extremely strong in this 2.35:1 image, sporting brash solidity across the board in this blue-and-tan heavy image. Many of the sprawling vistas at the beginning of the film are ripe for showcasing the sublime nature of high-definition films, especially showing how gripping depth of field can look in wide-angled shots. A nice level of film grain can be seen, though it flickers a bit more than expected during a few sequences. Also, a scene or two show some aliasing issues, especially against a red and white gasoline sign. However, after spot testing against some mildly problematic macroblocking areas, it seems as if the new authoring may have rounded out some rough areas that cropped up during rapid movement. That, however, is nit-picking in a search to find anything different, as this extremely strong and film-like image still looks outstanding.

The difference between these two editions lies in the audio track, as No Country scrapes the robust Linear PCM from the disc to make way for a DTS HD Master Audio option. As mentioned in the film review, there's a particularly engaging scene in the hotel that works wonders for telling the differences between sound qualities -- and seeing the solid step up in this new disc. From start to finish, it showcases improved levels in crisp highs with shattered glass, mid-range to low bass with gunfire, and verbal clarity once spoken word inches into the proceedings. The Master Audio track is mixed a blip or two louder than the PCM track, yet the boost in clarity and well-represented bass structure is still clearly evident when the volume is kicked down a notch or two. This spike in quality runs across the entire film, though in much milder degrees during dialogue scenes. It does still fall a little bit flat during a few window crashes and louder sound effects, though these only occur a handful of times. For those inundated, this sound mix reaches from the rears to the front in room-shattering fashion during a few scenes, and this DTS HD Master Audio makes it sound just that much better. A Spanish 5.1 track is also available, along with English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles.

Special Features:

Carried over from the original edition, we've got the studio grade assembly Making of No Country for Old Men (24:29, SD MPEG-2) supplement. It follows along with the mixing of interview time, clips from the film, and insights from the directors about their participation with the film. Then, there's the Coen Brothers specific feature Working with the Coens (8:07, SD MPEG-2), as well as the Diary of the Country Sheriff (6:44, SD MPEG-2) featurette that covers the balance struck between violence and complacency with Tommy Lee Jones' character.

That, however, just scratches the surface of the supplements within this new No Country Blu-ray disc, as the remaining features carry the overall supplemental runtime to well over five (!) and a half hours:

Josh Brolin: Unauthorized Behind-the-Scenes (9:19, SD MPEG-2):
Taking a lighter, more entertaining approach, this semi-mocumentary blends together some really entertaining interview time with Javier Bardem, Woddy Harrelson, and other members of the cast and crew into a part-insightful, part-hilarious extra feature. Though tongue-and-cheek, it does open up some interesting doors for film lovers -- like Bardem's candid discussion of his weight gain for the role and some, well, interesting behind-the-scenes footage of the cast members. When serious, it tells stories about their times working on the film and, ingeneral, showcases their happiness with the time they spent together.

Press Timeline:
Paired with the description "Immerse Yourself in the world of No Country for Old Men", Miramax has blown the door wide open with the extra features available for the film -- with the notable exception of a selectable, standalone trailer (though you can view one several times over integrated within the supplements). It coasts along a timeline, making footage available from October of 2007 to February of 2008 -- each with a tag that describes each event. Brolin, Bardem, and Macdonald spent a lot of time on the road for this flick, but -- wouldn't you know it -- they never seem to show much fatigue, even when they grow rather redundant from junket to junket.

Without question, there's pretty much everything about everything that the viewer would possibly want to cover regarding the film in this roster. All that's missing is a scene-specific commentary, but the features here more than engulf the disappointment there. From radio interviews to a wealth of question/answers sessions and interviews, this truly is an immersion into the press process -- and nearly as exhaustive. Like the previous featurettes, all the special features are in standard-definition MPEG-2 format. Here's the roster of supplements, in chronological order:

Worth Noting: A Call It, Friend-O option is available that randomly selects one of the many supplements.

Lunch with David Poland (26:30) -- Josh Brolin and Javier Bardem in a sit-down, casual interview
L.A. Q&A with David Powell (24:13) -- The Coens, Barden, Brolin, and Kelly Macdonald in casual round table discussion with audience
Variety Q&A (3:08) -- Brolin, Bardem, and Macdonald in a sit-down press junket Just a Minute (12:55) -- Interview with Bardem that blends footage of film with cheeky, fun questions
Creative Screenwriting Magazine (21:25) -- Podcast with Joel and Ethan Coen, hosted by Jeff Goldsmith
NPR's All Things Considered (4:44) -- Michele Norris interviews Josh Brolin
ABC Popcorn with Peter Travers (14:51) -- Brolin, Bardem, and Macdonald sit with Travers with blended-in footage
In-Store Appearance (40:31) -- another casual Bardem and Brolin interview
Charlie Rose (22:33) -- Coens join Bardem and Brolin, interviewed by Rose in his standard format (w/ trailer in front)
WNBC Reel Talks with Lyons and Bailes (10:02) -- Brolin sits down for a standard interview with the bubbly host
Channel 4 News (3:45) -- a nano behind-the-scenes interview with the Coens, built for quick TV-based consumption
KCRW The Treatment (28:30) -- Elvis Mitchell radio interview with Joel and Ethan Coen
NPR's Day to Day (6:37) -- Javier Bardem interviews with NPR's Alex Cohen
Spike Jonze Q&A (1:00:07) -- Jonze moderates a lengthy Q&A with the Coens and their No Country crew (cinematographer, sound, prod)
NPR's All Things Considered (7:49) -- Producer Scott Rudin interviewed by Robert Siegel. Great listen.
NPR's Weekend Edition (5:32) -- Scott Simon interviews Joel and Ethan Coen. Oscar-specific, nice listen.

Final Thoughts:

Taking home the Best Picture crown at the Oscars in 2007, No Country for Old Men has earned the label as the Coen Brothers' most highly-acclaimed picture. That's really saying something considering their catalog, and certainly a source of debate among the directors' followers. Their adaptation of McCarthy's novel carries a more realistic keel than most of their other works, yet they certainly don't stray away from their sense of humor -- or their taste for the bizarre and disturbing. Matched with strong performances across the board, including an Oscar-winning turn from Javier Bardem as the now-lauded villain Anton, it's a tense affair neck-high in suspenseful mannerisms and smart dialogue that remains wholly engaging with each return visit.

Miramax's Collector's Edition of No Country for Old Men brings a few strong cards to the table, namely a boost to Master Audio sound and a giant bag 'o tricks in the special features department. The Press Timeline feature is, without question, the highlight of the disc, sporting an almost overwhelming array of question/answer sessions and radio broadcasts that elucidate just about everything the viewer would want to know about the film. If this were the initial release, it'd be easy to slap a Collector's Series label on it. However, this is the second time through No Country Blu-ray territory, with a like-minded visual transfer and a bump in audio quality from already-outstanding to near perfection as the justification for a steep second investment ($40). Still, this package is a very Highly Recommended high-definition affair of a film with a surprisingly strong re-watchability level.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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