No Country For Old Men Review
As far as I'm concerned, No Country For Old Men is among the best American films of the past five years and likely to rank among my all-time favourite films once I've had chance to judge how kindly it is treated by the years. It seems to me to combine the best qualities of the Coen Brothers' films - attention to detail, quirky supporting characters, pin-sharp evocation of time and place - with a vision which is epic, complex and harshly moral. I will return to my views on the film at the end of this review but, for now, I refer you to the three reviews we already have on the site - a highly critical cinema review by Noel Megahey which can be read here and two enthusiastic DVD reviews from John White and Clydefro Jones.
The Region 2 Disc
Paramount's Region 2 release of this Oscar-winning film is generally impressive, although more effort could have gone into the extra features.
The transfer is splendid. The most notable aspect is the quality of colour throughout. The palate of the film is browns and blues and this rich and nicely saturated transfer is very faithful to this scheme, recreating Roger Deakins' marvellous cinematography with loving care. There is some fine grain present throughout but no unwelcome intrusions. The level of detail is exemplary throughout and the only problem I noticed was a slight edge enhancement in some scenes. Naturally, as you'd expect, the transfer is anamorphic and framed at the original ratio of 2.35:1.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is also superb, with one caveat. The gunshots and explosions are as rich as you could hope for, giving the sub a good workout. The sparse music score sounds attractive and ambient effects fill out the surround channels. The moments of near-silence are also crystal clear. My one slight reservation is the dialogue recording which is sometimes very low in the mix, presumably deliberately as I noted the same thing at the cinema showings I attended. You'll have to pay close attention to catch all of Tommy Lee Jones' opening monologue and some of Javier Bardem's lines.
The extras are identical to those on both Region 1 releases and so is the level of disappointment. I enjoyed the brief study of the Sherrif and the ways that the Coens see his character operating in the narrative. The making-of featurette, despite a near-thirty minute running time, is frustratingly opaque, with the Coens and Tommy Lee Jones deliberately avoiding giving too much away. The other featurette is an exercise in mutual admiration and, again, not very enlightening, although it's nice to hear from the underrated likes of Tess Harper.
The film has optional subtitles as do all the extra features. There are 16 chapter stops and simple but effective menus.
I guess I should explain more clearly why I rate the film so highly. Well, for one thing, I think it's an elegant and beautifully controlled piece of filmmaking which doesn't waste a single moment or line of dialogue. Everything is designed to elaborate the central thesis - that the world is harsh, cruel and unforgiving, and always has been. America, as the film sees it, was built on - and sustains itself on - violence and pain. As Barry Corbin's old timer says, "This country's hard on people." To acknowledge this is to challenge oneself to make a moral response to it. The tragedy of Sherrif Ed Bell - the key character - is that he can't find an appropriate reaction within himself; he can't find God, he can't understand the world around him and he can't live up to the memory of his father. Anton Chigurh represents the randomness and insanity of the violence engulfing us but what makes him chilling is that he has his own logic and his own morality which makes sense only to himself. His very rationality makes him frightening - if evil has a moral structure for itself, it emerges from chaos to an alternative ethical standpoint. He represents the changing climate of the turn of the decade from 1970s to 80s - the rise of the drug trade and, perhaps, the ascendancy of Reagan and the me-decade.
It's also a tremendously audacious film, pacing itself carefully to first fulfill audience expectations and then deliberately traduce them. The last half hour is almost guaranteed to annoy those audiences who want satisfying closure with one central character killed off-screen and another vanishing into the suburbs. Then, to cap it all, the film ends with Tommy Lee Jones recounting two dreams which make complete sense to the overall scheme of the film but tend to leave some viewers enraged when the monologue is followed by a fade to black and the credits. All I can say is that I loved this. The film is about Sherrif Bell - his courage and his failure - and it's entirely correct that it should both start and end with him remembering his father and his entirely false impressions of how things were better in the old days. These scenes, along with the Barry Corbin scene I refer to above, are the heart of the film and essential to anyone who wants to get the most out of it.
That's not to say that the movie doesn't also function as a great thriller. There are set-pieces so tense that it's impossible to look away from them even as you grip the armrest of your chair in suspense. There are gunfights and chases and some massive explosions. But it seems to me to be so much more and repeat viewings confirm that what's most interesting about the film is just slightly beneath the surface. Digging into it proves incredibly rewarding.