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No Country for Old Men (Collector's Edition) (Blu-ray)
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment / 2007 / 122 Minutes / Rated R
Street Date: April 07, 2009
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Reviewed by High-Def Digest Staff
Monday, April 06, 2009
Non-Format specific portions of this review also appear in our original Blu-ray review of 'No Country For Old Men.'
It's been trumped as "The Return of the Coen Brothers," it was declared Best Picture at the 2007 Academy Awards, and it features some of the most powerful, naturalistic performances captured on film that year. Anyway you cut it, 'No Country for Old Men' is an astounding achievement in storytelling and filmmaking, one that warrants every bit of praise critics and fans can heave its way. Personally, I'm smitten.
'No Country for Old Men' tells the slow-drawled tale of Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) and sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), two strangers in 1980 West Texas struggling to make sense of their meager lives. A Vietnam veteran and welder by trade, Moss works day in and day out to provide a decent living for his wife Carla Jean (Kelly Macdonald). Bell, on the other hand, is about to retire from a successful career in law enforcement, but he's plagued by the fading relevance of his generation. When Moss stumbles across a botched heroin deal in the desert and steals a satchel packed with millions in cartel cash, he becomes the unwitting target of a vicious hitman named Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem). Unbeknownst to Llewelyn, a small tracking device is embedded in the stolen case, forcing him to stay one step ahead of the seemingly omnipresent assassin. As bodies pile up in Chigurh's wake, sheriff Bell must try to get a handle on the sudden violence erupting in his town.
Director's Joel and Ethan Coen ('Blood Simple,' 'Fargo') seem right at home with the laconic conversations and simple musings of their characters. Rather than engaging in a series of chase scenes and hyperactive encounters, in 'No Country for Old Men,' the brothers coordinate a carefully paced game of cat and mouse that leaves film fans little in the way of a safety net. The heroes aren't guaranteed survival, the villain is an unstoppable agent of death, and the supporting characters are mere fodder for Chigurh's merciless streak. The Coens have tossed aside every Hollywood cliche, crafting a world of palpable danger and disarming tension. I can't remember the last time a movie literally held me on the edge of my seat, but 'No Country for Old Men' drew me toward the screen more than any film this year.
Of course, the directors' efforts would be in vain if not for the cast's extraordinary performances. Brolin tops off a career-defining year with a role that's both quiet and explosive; his portrayal of Llewelyn as a sad-sack worker invigorated by chance is tragic and haunting. Jones continues to prove himself as the go-to actor of his generation, turning in another thoughtful performance that evokes the wisdom chiseled into the leathery folds of his face. Finally, Bardem's cold hearted killer is a revelation -- a terrifying sociopath who puts Hannibal Lector and other cinematic monsters to shame. The scene in which Chigurh strolls into a convenience store and flips a coin is hands down one of the creepiest moments committed to film.
I'd be remiss to close out my review without mentioning cinematographer Roger Deakins. 'No Country for Old Men' proves that words aren't always the most effective means for telling a great story. From forlorn deserts to vacant city streets, from poorly lit motel rooms to a sea of tall grass near a border station, Deakins manages to imbue every shot with surreal, dusty beauty; in the process conveying an unforgiving vision of Texas and the film's characters.
'No Country for Old Men' is a post-modern masterpiece. While it takes place in the early '80s and features a horde of stoic, tight-lipped cowboys, it speaks to both the timeless nature of the human condition and the perils of modern society. Its old men are perplexed by the emerging violence of the times, its young men are overly eager to die in pursuit of an easy dollar, and its killers are as determined and ruthless as nature itself. The film's slow pace and languid story may not be for everyone, but 'No Country for Old Men' is a tense, challenging morality tale that has a lot to say about the prevailing cynicism of our world.
Disney first released 'No Country for Old Men' on Blu-ray in 2008, quite quickly after its Academy Awards win. They haven't remastered or done anything new to that presentation -- in fact, this appears to be the same transfer as before. However, the studio has tacked on a notable number of new extras (see below), though dropping a more space-hungry PCM audio track for a DTS-MA alternative. Video quality remains consistent, however, and sheerly in terms of video quality, that's not a bad thing at all. 'No Country for Old Men' looked great the first time around on Blu-ray, and it still looks great now.
Don't be deterred by its subdued palette -- 'No Country for Old Men' features one of the finest, filmic Blu-ray transfers I've encountered. Naturalistic colors and skintones are the lifeblood of this 1080p/AVC encode, injecting a level of authenticity into the production that truly elevates the film. The bright, desert exteriors didn't reveal any blooming, and the bleak nighttime shots of the city weren't hindered by crushing. In fact, shadow delineation is incredibly precise considering the fact that the transfer's blacks are inky and its contrast is comfortably stark. Detail is a bit stealthy, but that has more to do with the basic costuming and set design than any technical deficiency. It's a cinch to spot sharp facial details, clothing textures, and blowing dust. Jump to the scene in which sheriff Bell examines the site of the botched heroin deal -- notice the crisp brush in the distance, the rustled hair on the dead dog, and the tiny pebbles lying in the dirt at his feet. Simply stunning.
There are no hints of edge enhancement, artifacting, or compression issues to be found. Compared to the standard DVD, the Blu-ray edition is a completely different animal -- it's cleaner, more vibrant, and far more stable. If I have any nitpick, it's that grain spikes a bit during some of the darker evening shots, but this can be attributed to the original print, rather than to the Blu-ray transfer. All in all, 'No Country for Old Men' looks exceptional, matching the Coens' intensity and Deakins' skilled cinematography at every turn.
Disney has dropped the PCM track found on the previous Blu-ray of 'No Country for Old Men,' instead offering up a DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 Surround option (both 48kHz/24-bit). This is likely to give over disc space previously eaten up by the PCM track to the new extras found on this 'Collector's Edition.' Comparison is close, with the PCM slightly out-performing the DTS-MA, though differences are small enough that it is likely only the most discerning ears will notice.
The film exploits the full soundstage for the most part, particularly on shoot-outs and in the use of score and atmosphere. Some passages remain front-heavy, however. After a series of A/B compares on five scenes spread throughout the film, only multiple listens revealed a slight dullness to the DTS-MA compared to the PCM -- a little less extension to the very high-end of the spectrum, and more obviousness to movement of a discrete sound from channel-to-channel. Surround use remains generally limited, however, with most sounds directed to the front soundstage.
Dynamics remain strong. The mix is always very clear, spacious and full of robust, warm mid-range. Low bass is slightly improved on the PCM, but again it's so close that many may not likely be able to tell a difference. Dialogue remains pitch perfect, with excellent balance and a clean source. I personally don't find the transition to DTS-MA and any attendant deficiency warrants a lowering of the audio rating versus our previous review of 'No Country for Old Men,' even if I slightly preferred the PCM on the original Blu-ray edition.
The original Blu-ray and DVD editions of 'No Country for Old Men' were sub-standard affairs in terms of supplements, with only a few all-too-short featurettes and no audio commentary from the Coen Brothers. Unfortunately, this new 'Collector's Edition' doesn't deliver much on the label -- we get the same fluffy features as before, plus a raft of interviews that may be copious but often redundant. And still no commentary, deleted scenes, or anything else -- this new version of 'Old Country for Old Men' feels like an EPK repository more than anything else.
- Featurette: "The Making of No Country for Old Men" (SD, 25 minutes) -- The first of three featurettes included on the previous Blu-ray and DVD, this straight forward featurette is admittedly packed with information about the production, the script, the cast, and the final editing of the film. Better still, it features interview clips with the Coen brothers as they discuss design decisions, pre-production woes, and the amount of leg-work it took to get the project off the ground. The entire cast chimes in as well, noting the efforts and the commitment exhibited by everyone involved.
- Featurette: "Working with the Coens" (SD, 8 minutes) -- This rather self descriptive featurette doesn't have many surprises, but it does manage to explore the on-set attitudes and shooting styles of the Coen Brothers. Interviews, candid behind-the-scenes footage, and a few questions with the directors keep this one consistently interesting.
- Featurette: "Diary of a Country Sheriff" (SD, 7 minutes) -- This all-too-brief featurette compares and contrasts the characters of Sheriff Ed Tom Bell and Anton Chigurh. Tommy Lee Jones and Javier Bardem appear in interviews to discuss the manner in which they crafted their characters.
- Interview: "Spike Jonze Q&A" (SD, 60 minutes) -- The first of nearly five hours of new content, all interviews and TV excerpts. This is one of the best of the fresh lot. Director Jonze hosts a detailed Q&A with the Coens, director of photography Roger Deakins and members of the tech crew. It's quite technical and long-winded, but of the new material, at least is not as redundant as many of the rest.
- Interview: "In-Store Appearance" (SD, 42 minutes) -- Featuring Bardem and Brolin (again), this is probably another of the best interviews on the disc. The two actors are given more than enough time to talk at length about their characters, their process and working with the Coens.
- Interview: "WGA Panel" (SD, 24 minutes) -- Another more lengthy piece, this one again features the Coens, Bardem and Brolin, but also Kelly MacDonald and (about halfway in) Tommy Lee Jones, and it's hosted by filmmaker Noah Baumbach. Though again there is some repeat info, at least we get to hear from Jones at last, as he barely appears anywhere else in the supplements.
- TV Excerpt: "The Charlie Rose Show" (SD, 23 minutes) -- I must say, Charlie Rose has to be getting rich off of the licensing of all his clip shows on DVDs these days. This one features the Coens, along with Bardem and Brolin. It's pretty good, though the background overlaps much of what we already learned in the EPK featurettes.
- Additional Interviews (SD) -- Here's where things really start to get redundant. Though there are a few interesting tidbits sprinkled throughout, there is so much repetition here I felt going through all these materials was quite a rough slog. Only diehard 'No Country for Old Men' and Coen Brothers fans need apply.
Among the dozen additional clips is a "Variety Q&A" (3 minutes) with Bardem, Brolin and MacDonald; Peter Travers interview (14 minutes) with Brolin, MacDonald and Bardem, "EW.Com interview with Bardem" (13 minutes); "Reel Talk with Lyons and Bailes" (10 minutes ) with Brolin; and no less than four excerpts from NPR, "Day to Day" (6 minutes) with Bardem, "Weekend Edition Saturday" with the Coens (6 minutes), "All Things Considered" (8 minutes) with producer Scott Rudin, and "NPR interview with Josh Brolin" (5 minutes).
More substantial, if still overlapping with what we've seen before, is a "Lunch with David Poland" (26 minutes) with yet again Bardem and Brolin, and finally, a Creative Screenwriter Magazine podcast with the Coens (20 minutes)
- Gag Featurette: "Josh Brolin's Unauthorized Behind-the-Scenes" (SD, 9 minutes) -- Rounding it out, we have this mock-featurette, which features Brolin dissing the Coens. Unfortunately, it's hardly as funny as it sounds.
- Digital Copy -- Also included on a second, standard DVD disc is a Digital Copy of the film (in standard-def). It's compatible with PCs and iTunes.
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'No Country for Old Men' is an instant, modern classic, and easily up there with the best of the Coen Brothers (which is saying a great deal). Unfortunately, this new 'Collector's Edition' Blu-ray doesn't add much over the previous release. The video remains terrific, and the audio makes a conversion from PCM to DTS-MA (which may turn off the most dedicated of audiophiles). Unless a few new promotional interviews and Digital Copy interests you, I'd say you're perfectly safe holding on to your previous Blu-ray.