Wednesday, March 12, 2008

From the Archive: "No Country for Old Men" DVD Review

Welcome to The Archive, a comprehensive collection of reviews dating back to 2007, originally written for The Denver Post’s YourHub.Com website and print edition!  In the archive, you’ll find hundreds of movie, DVD, Blu-Ray, and TV reviews, along with other special features.  You can access the complete Archive Collection by clicking here, and read about the archive project by clicking here. 

Continue reading after the jump to access my original DVD Review of “No Country for Old Men”

From the Jonathan R. Lack Review Archives:
“No Country for Old Men”
DVD Review originally published March 12th, 2008


What do I say about a film like this?  It’s one of those movies that words have trouble describing, which is ironic, considering that the film’s amazing dialogue is one its greatest assets.  A film with amazing dialogue should be easy to write about, right? 

Watching the DVD was my third time seeing the film, and three times in a row, I was stuck to my chair (couch in this case) once the credits rolled.  And once again, I liked the film more this time than last time I saw it.  Each time, even though I know everything that’s going to happen, I appreciate this amazing piece of art even more.  Why?  I don’t know.  I’m still trying to find out why this film gets better every time.  What I do know is that the Coen Brothers are magicians, and their magic wands are cameras. 

As far as a review goes, all I can tell you are the other things that make this film spellbinding and powerful; but I still can’t figure out why it keeps getting better.

The film begins with a welder/hunter named Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) coming across the pile of dead bodies, the result of a drug deal gone wrong.  He also finds 2 million dollars; I don’t know about you, but if I found 2 million big ones, I’d take it.  Moss thinks like I do, but the ramifications of him taking the money are beyond belief.  A hit-man by the name of Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem, in his Oscar-winning performance) is hot on his trail.  And as the film’s tagline tells us, there are no clean getaways.

Sounds like a Best Picture winner, doesn’t it?  No, not really.  If I’d never seen the film, and heard the basic premise, I wouldn’t believe it could actually win Best Picture.  And for the first 100 minutes or so, the film is simply a thriller; a very, very good thriller with some phenomenal performances and a great script to boot, but a thriller nonetheless.  But in the last twenty minutes, Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), who had previously only been a secondary character, rises to the front of the pack, and through him we see the message of the film.  And it is deep.  I’ll let you interpret it how you like; that’s the great thing about this film.  It’s open to discussion.  Yes, this is Best Picture material 100 percent, and I’m very happy it won.  I’m also glad to see the Oscars recognizing something so different than their usual fare.

The film is driven by a powerful script by Joel and Ethan Coen.  Borrowing heavy from Cormac McCarthy’s novel of the same name, they have written a very well paced drama, with some of the best dialogue of the year.  And this was the year of great dialogue.  Juno, Michael Clayton, There Will Be Blood, 3:10 to Yuma, etc.  NCFOM stands proudly among those scripts; the Oscar for Adapted Screenplay was well deserved.

The Coens also direct the picture, and their Directing Oscar was equally deserved, if not more so.  Every action sequence is so tense it literally sucks the breath out of you; shots are incredibly well composed, with lots of thought put into it.  And only a great director can get performances this good out of their actors.

As Llewelyn Moss, Josh Brolin is exceptional.  Charming, smart, and cool, he is a protagonist we can root for.  Tommy Lee Jones is superb as Sheriff Ed Tom, a man realizing the real state of the world when he hits old age.  His performance is quiet and reserved; this isn’t the booming Jones of The Fugitive.  He quietly and powerfully delivers the Coen’s excellent dialogue with ease, and considering that he’s the epitomical character, the performance is even more astounding.

But the best of the bunch is Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh, the ultimate bad-ass.  Chigurh is evil to the core…but he’s got a set of ethics; a set of codes he lives by.  This makes him all the more haunting.  In Chigurh, Bardem and the Coen Brothers craft one of the best villains to ever grace the silver screen.  He gives Darth Vader a run for his money.  Bardem’s Oscar was not only well-deserved; if he had lost, it would have been an outrage.

The Coens show us life, plain and simple.  As such, there is almost no musical score; music is limited to a string chord heard once in a while, made to sound like ambient noise.  We hear every footstep, gust of wind, tiny crack of gravel, etc.  It becomes haunting, because this world is so real.  This world is our world.  This is where the genius of the Coens shines through; they achieve a sense of reality through nothing more than SOUND.  How many filmmakers can claim that?

All these elements make for a spellbinding film.  But I still can’t really provide an explanation for why this film gets better every time I watch it.  Perhaps it’s the simple conglomeration of all these elements…put perhaps there’s something more.  This is one of the great dilemmas of film; a movie that constantly gets better.  I can’t give you an answer why, but I’ll keep searching.

Film Rating: A
Top Ten 07: #3


On DVD, the film experience is just as enjoyable as in theaters.  The video quality is superb.  I haven’t seen a DVD with video quality this good since Ratatouille, but that was animated.  I really don’t know the last time I saw live-action video this beautiful.

The film is set against the Texas landscape, and you can see every detail on every last tumbleweed.  Some nature shots look almost hi-def.  Detail is exquisite, like you’re watching the original 35mm film.  Colors are vibrant and jump off the screen.  There have been some recent DVD’s with quality like this outdoors, but inside scenes often suffer.  Not on this DVD.  Dark indoor scenes are well-rendered, and you can still see most details.  Contrast isn’t perfect, but generally speaking, blacks are deep and lush; sometimes, they get an overly-digital look, causing them to appear grey, but overall the contrast is rock solid.  Facial features are totally realistic; just look at the wrinkles on Tommy Lee Jones.  Sometimes, when not in close-up, faces feature traces of digital artifacting, but this is rare and not worth whining about.  This is a great picture, plain and simple. 

And if you’ve seen the movie, you know the sound is equally important.  The Coens use it to draw us into the world.  Luckily, this disc also hosts one of the best audio tracks in a long while.  Every single footstep, clink, crunch, etc. is sharp, clear, and vibrant.  Dialogue sound great; Bardem emits a low bass rumble in his voice, and that is perfectly recreated here.  I worried that some of the film’s power would be lost on DVD, due to an inferior audio track, but my worries were quickly laid to rest.  The audio is nearly perfect, and matches the theatrical experience very well.

Video Rating: 9.5/10
Audio Rating: 10/10


While the A/V quality may be a home-run, the extras are less than stellar, to put it lightly.  For one of the best reviewed films of the year, and the winner of 4 Oscars, you’d think this would be a two-disc set packed to the gills with bonuses.  But we actually get three fairly pathetic featurettes.  The first, simply titled The Making of No Country for Old Men, runs 24 minutes and doesn’t live up to its name.

Basically, the short is a collection of interviews with the cast and crew.  Most of the featurette is simply the crew praising each other, which gets old fast.  There’s probably seven good minutes of content here, and when it’s good, it’s really good.  We hear a little about the casting choices and adapting the novel.  Here’s the main problem—it only skims the surface.  It’s a total tease.  We get to something interesting, and then the featurettes abandons the topic.  We’ll begin to see cool on-set footage, and then it cuts back to interviews.  The only thing it follows through on is when it shows us how the sequence where Chigurh kills the cop with his handcuffs was achieved.  This is really cool, but overall, this featurette is a dud.

The second featurettes is entitled Working With the Coens, and it runs 8 minutes.  This is the best on the disc, but that’s not saying much.  It’s another collection of interviews; the cast and crew tell us how the Coens work, and it’s cool to hear.  But I’d like to see it.  I’d like to see the directing team actually directing on-set, but there’s almost no on-set footage.  The final featurette is called Diary of a County Sheriff.  Running 7 minutes, the featurette is supposed to be about Tommy Lee Jones’ character, but ends up spending half its time talking about the rest of the cast.  It’s mostly stuff we saw in the making-of featurette, which makes this one a total waste. 

Watching all three lasts about 40 minutes, and you come away with only a slightly better idea about the making of the film.  All I wanted on this disc, really, was a commentary track with the Coens, but we don’t even get that.  What’s worse, all three featurettes are in 4x3 fullscreen.  I don’t recall the last time a DVD shot their bonus features like that.  Most do it in 16x9 anamorphic widescreen, or at the least, 16x9 non-anamorphic.  But fullscreen?  C’mon.  We’re past that; lots and lots of people own widescreen sets, and those who don’t probably will soon.  When they do, they’ll want to watch the bonus features on this disc in proper quality.  This was a big oversight.

Extras and Presentation Rating: 4.5/10


But I didn’t buy this disc for the extras.  The film is the extra; it’s so incredibly good that you don’t really regret the lack of good bonuses.  The movie isn’t for everyone, but I highly recommend at least renting it.  If you liked the film in theaters, just buy this DVD.  It’s worth it because of the exceptional A/V, even with the lack of extras.

Overall Rating (not an average): 9/10                   

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