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.
'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.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.