No Country For Old Men
R1 - America - Miramax Pictures
Review written by and copyright: James Teitelbaum (5th April 2008).
The Film

Joel and Ethan Coen have had an amazing career to date, having made a remarkable string of films that each get better and reveal more layers within themselves as the work ages. The brothers' career arc can be seen as a perfectly symmetrical bell curve, with their first three films (made between 1984 and 1990) each being a superior work to the one before it (culminating in the great "Miller's Crossing"). Following that upward trajectory, they did five films between 1991 and 2000, and every one of them is a must-see (including "Fargo", "The Big Lebowski", and "Barton Fink"). However, beginning in 2001 with the good (not great) "The Man Who Wasn't There", they began a three picture downward arc that ended with a miserable remake of the 1955 classic "The Ladykillers".

Had they stopped there, their career would have described a neat rise-and-fall, with the bulk of the material being of sterling quality. This is not to be the case however, as the apparently unstoppable Coens seem to be as full of energy as ever: their 2007 effort "No Country For Old Men" did very well at the Oscars this year, and the brothers have no less than four films slated for release in 2008 and 2009.

It seems to me that "No Country For Old Men" might be regarded in the future as the starting point for a "Coen Brothers 2.0", or the beginning of a second phase to their already successful and prolific careers. What might come as a surprise to some readers is that upon my first viewing of "No Country For Old Men", I likened the movie -- structurally -- to a porno film!

Follow the logic here:

In a porno film, we meet a few characters who we don't know, who have no back story, and who we have little reason to care about. With the thinnest and most uninspired of motivations, the characters will screw for a while. The 'best' scenes show lots of bodily fluids flying about. When there has been enough screwing to satisfy audiences who like to see people screwing on screen, the movie ends abruptly, the characters each go their own ways with little ado, and there is no need to tie up the plot, since there really isn't one. Now, replace all instances of the word 'screwing' with 'killing' in the above paragraph, and you essentially have "No Country For Old Men."

Although I am a great admirer of the Coens, it seemed that finding "No Country For Old Men" to be one of their weaker efforts had put me in a minority position. This film seems to have been praised almost universally. Watching the film a second time for the purposes of this DVD review, and armed now with the knowledge that the film had won the best picture Oscar for 2007, it seemed prudent to look for further layers in it.

The general point of the tale is: circa 1980 the world was changing, and our rampantly violent society had reached a threshold beyond law enforcement's ability to truly control or contain it. A competent, noble, and good-hearted - yet tough and seasoned - rural Texan sheriff (Tommy Lee Jones) realizes that he is in over his head, and decides to retire and let the world run its course rather than trying to save it all by himself. He goes into his twilight years on his farm while a brutal killer (Javier Bardem) and some rival drug gangs get away scot-free. Mixed up in all of this are a Texan redneck couple (Josh Brolin and Kelly Macdonald) who do not survive their encounters with forces considerably larger than themselves.

Having understood the issue at hand - Jones' character is out of his league in the modern world - I still feel that the point was obscured because the Coens spent more time showing the audience how evil Bardem's character is, and developing Brolin's doomed cowboy while largely ignoring what should have been at the center of the film: Jones' journey.

Jones does wonders with what little screen time he has, and it is a wonder that he didn't get an Oscar nod for his performance here (he was nominated this year for a different role however). It was Bardem in fact who won a best supporting actor Oscar for his work in this film, but all he really does is follow Brolin around like some modern-day Michael Myers or Jason Vorhees (from the old "Halloween" (1978) and "Friday the 13th" (1980) films) killing whomever gets in his way. Myers' butcher knife has been replaced with a cattle slaughtering device, and Jason's hockey mask has been replaced by a Dorothy Hamill haircut, but otherwise there is little difference, save for perhaps a smattering of that good ol' post-Hannibal Lecter psycho killer charm. Bardem played essentially the same character a decade earlier in the stinker "Perdita Durango" (1997), except his haircut in that film was a mullet.

Woody Harrelson also has a small role that could have been completely eliminated in the cutting room without effecting the final film in any meaningful way. Harrelson's character might be seen as a metaphor for the entire film, in fact. "No Country For Old Men" could have been the genius flm that so many people make it out to be, if only some different choices had been made in the editing room.


The aspect ratio is presented in the original theatrical 2.35:1 widescreen, enhanced for 16x9 televisions. Coen brothers cameraman Roger Deakins is in top form here, and his work is well-represented. The print is bright, clean, and flawless, with colors that closely match what was seen in the film's theatrical run. Compression artifacts (banding) are visible during some of the broad exterior scenes, particularly in the landscapes and skies. Slightly distracting, but not a deal-breaker - the presentation is sharp and very watchable. Running time is 2:02:01, divided into 16 chapters.


"No Country For Old Men" is presented in English Dolby Digital 5.1 only, with English for the hearing impaired, Spanish, and French subtitles. One of the most interesting and truly fascinating things about the movie is that there is relatively little dialogue, and almost no music whatsoever. The only music you'll hear are two bits of Mariachi music during scenes in Mexico, and underscore during the closing titles. The soundtrack of "No Country For Old Men" is largely made up of sound effects both obvious and subtle, spanning an extremely broad dynamic range. This soundscape (by Skip Livesay, who - infuriatingly - did not grab an Oscar for his work) is well-presented on the DVD. This is a nice DVD to use when illustrating what truly inspired sound design is all about: never over the top, but always skilled.


Buena Vista has released this film with three featurettes and a collection of bonus trailers. Below is a closer look at these supplements.

"The Making of No Country For Old Men" runs for 24 minutes 26 seconds ans is a by-the-book production featurette, with the Coens discussing their feelings about the source novel and the production of the film. As always, they look uncomfortable in front of the camera, clearly prefering to be on the other side of it. The principle actors chime in too, and there is a fair amount of on-set footage.

"Working with the Coens" is a featurette running for 8 minutes 7 seconds and consists of interviews with Javier Bardem about his experiences with the Coens.

"Diary of a Country Sheriff" is a short featurette that runs for 6 minutes 44 seconds about the character of Sheriff Bell played by Tommy Lee Jones. Jones and the Coens are interviewed about Bell's motivations and his story arc.

A bonus trailer gallery rounds out the extras and includes:

- "Disney Blu-ray" promo which runs for 1 minute 47 seconds.
- "Dan in Real Life" which runs for 2 minutes 30 seconds.
- "National Treasure: Book of Secrets" which runs for 2 minutes 2 seconds.
- "Gone Baby Gone" which runs for 2 minutes 37 seconds.


The DVD comes packaged in an amaray case housed in a cardboard slip-case.


The bonus features on this disc are a little bit minimal for a film as high-profile as this one; it would not surprise me if we were to see a 'Special Edition' before very long. A commentary track in particular would be interesting.

The Film: B- Video: A- Audio: A Extras: B- Overall: B+


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