No Country For Old Men Review
I can see why people have got hot under the collar about the latest film from the Coen Brothers, and specifically how we have rated it here at DVD Times. From my own jaundiced point of view, I disagree strongly with the reviews we gave the good brothers of their two previous films, Intolerable Cruelty and The Lady Killers, as both enterprises seemed to me poor imitations of their best work. You, like me, may have wondered just what was so darn good about these almost natureless movies which lacked heart, fun, or human insight as to justify our scores and praise. So I have to say I welcome the scepticism to the new work which Noel brought to his review, and like Noel, I was quite prepared to ask whether the film-makers had started to head downhill at an alarming rate. Having now seen the film twice, I would have to declare that No Country For Old Men reminded me more of the best of the Coen's work than evidence of artistic bankruptcy.
I have written before about the strange emphasis placed on films to justify their sex and violence, and I am struck again by how some detractors of this film use the innate violence and nihilism of this project to decry its quality. Personally, I see the uncomprehending perspective of the mechanical and inevitable harm caused by Javier Bardem's Chigurh to be the whole point of the film rather than something to be apologised for. This same depressing point seemed just as strong in the universally praised Fargo when the family friendly cop shook her head at the mayhem of men in the wood chipper and bungled kidnaps as motivated simply "for a little money", so why is this such a problem here for some. Perhaps that's because the point is more firmly driven home in this newest venture with good people feeling dumbfounded and decidedly mortal at the unrelenting progression of violence.
Clydefro's review does an excellent job at getting to why the film is so accomplished, and I find myself only wanting to add to his thoughts some more personal comments about why this film is so effective now in our world. The setting is the post Vietnam and drug running 1980's, and it seems to me that the clear implication of this movie's release now is to further capture that mortal fear that has crept into many a western mind since the recent rise in unfathomable killings which have included murdering martyrs as well as pointless tragedies and fatal misfortune.
Bardem's killer here has been characterised by some as the devil himself, or our inevitable fate, but to me it is important to recognise him as a remorseless assassin who kills to keep his word and to make his point, even if that involves the slaughter of innocents or unnecessary carnage. He is an evangelical monster whom money will not stop, and mercenaries can't comprehend. To my mind, he is the walking talking symbol of a new kind of threat in an otherwise all American landscape, rather than an updated version of the pale bloke with a scythe. Anton Chigurh is the embodiment of that thing that is coming for us, that no matter how clever we are, or how carefully we tread, it will keep coming. What makes him so powerful now is how he forces us to recognise how unsafe and vulnerable our world feels despite our attempts to get a bit of security. In our modern lives, we try to be cute and to grab our chances, yet we learn that, at home, at work or on holiday, we are never truly protected. Like Llewellyn Moss thought he knew what he was doing with his discarded loot in the desert, we have learned that some people can't be stopped because they won't be bought off and won't get scared off either. This new kind of threat won't stop until it keeps all its promises.
Reducing this film to echoes of the grave and rogue chance does it no justice. This may simply be a Texas misadventure but the sheer randomness of fate within it is fueled by our global insecurity rather than a simple personal mortality, and it proves very adept at shaking the viewer whilst remaining subtle about any more pointed comments. The subtlety is there though as we witness the decidedly un-American Chigurh and the failure of his very American opponents to come to terms with him - our world is not safe for the just man, the stubborn man, the corporate man, or the mercenary. Some have criticised the film for not being brave enough in its allegory, but this is not a polemic, it's a moral piece about how at risk we all find ourselves whether we are rich, powerful, clever or even humble.
The script and dialogue are excellent and allow each of the protagonists enough to make their parts convincing and entertaining, and the cinematography gives the film an arid aspect. Plot is secondary to the spirit of the story and the mood of suspense, and a lot is left to the viewer to work out for themselves in terms of pure mechanics, but the construction is artful and the characters are rich through comparison. In short, I think that this is their best movie since The Big Liebowski and that it arrests a decline in the brothers powers by returning to the visceral element of Blood Simple and slipping in commentary which up 'till now their movies avoided. I am glad that their future will not be the anodyne or the dumb suggested by their recent output, and that they have reached for a statement at last. No Country For Old Men is darned good.
The Blu-ray from Buena Vista contains the same content as the R1 disc that we recently covered and it comes on what is reported as an unlocked disc. The transfer is extremely rich and very detailed in picking up the landscape and environment of the film's setting, the contrast is perfect, edges are natural looking and the baked arid aspect is well captured in the colours. The disc comes with two audio mixes, a normal 5.1 and an uncompressed 5.1. The latter is clearly preferable and gives superb clarity to the dialogue, along with a fully three dimensional sound when necessary. The sequence where Moss runs from Chigurh into the border town night is excellently managed with perspective changing along with the sound mix and the chaos and bullets ringing around the speakers. The soundtrack is really tested in the moments of explosions which seldom punctuate the very low key dialogue and long periods of silence, and the sub-woofer is used well in scenes such as the pharmacy explosion. The uncompressed track is a wonderful addition to the film which justifies a hi def purchase on its own.
The extras are the same sorry ones which Clydefro covered, with very short pieces on Tommy Lee Jones' character and the cast and crew's appreciation of the Coen brothers. The Making of featurette has a little more meat but the brothers answer questions in their usual shoe-gazing style as the major casting decisions are explained along with the attempts to capture the period of the 1980's. Bardem comes over as an interesting character, and Lee Jones seems likely to be a fine poker player which his non-committal remarks. There is no trailer included, and the menu used here is very similar to an ordinary DVD style and you will find the pop-up menu to be exactly the same. This means that the screen is obscured by the menu as the film's sound plays on which seems rather redundant for such a function.
A fine movie which I believe is more of our time than others have given it credit for is given an excellent transfer with superb uncompressed sound. The extras are very light and the menus are rudimentary, but still this is well worth picking up