Wednesday, March 12, 2008

NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN: Blu-ray (Miramax/Paramount Vantage 2007) Alliance Home Video

An utterly faithful adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel, Joel and Ethan Coen’s Oscar-winning No Country For Old Men (2007) is a pitiless, unrelenting social critique seamlessly grafted onto a harrowing game of cat and mouse. Shot primarily in the stark empty backwaters of Texas, New Mexico and Las Vegas, the film’s oppressively dark, edgy and sparse cinematography by Roger Deakins along with its emotion-less, script by the Coens, produce an unforgiving landscape of soulless characters caught in their own congruent webs of self destruction.

At $25 million, No Country for Old Men is a decidedly modest budgeted joint venture between Paramount and Miramax Films. Newcomer to American audiences, Javier Bardem justly receives a Best Actor Oscar for his strangely philosophical performance as the foreboding angel of death assassin with a wedge-cut, driven to commit unspeakable acts. Tommy Lee Jones and Josh Brolin deliver potent and unsettling portraits of self-righteous fatigue and invigorated greed respectively.

The film begins in the stark landscape of West Texas, circa 1980 with Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) providing an aloof social critique on the sad slow demise of peace in the region. Professional hitman, Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) brutally slaughters Bell’s deputy (Zach Hopkins) to escape custody, steals his police cruiser, then murders an unsuspecting old man (Chip Love) simply to switch vehicles and continue his violent trek across the county undetected.

In the meantime, good ol’ boy Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) accidentally discovers the strewn human wreckage of a drug deal gone horribly bad; multiple corpses, a bag full of money and a barely alive Mexican who will perish without his help. At first, greed consumes Moss. He hightails it out of the valley with the money, leaving the Mexican to die. But a sudden attack of conscience sends Moss back to the scene of the crime. Unfortunately, he is discovered by the other bandits and thereafter begins what ultimately becomes a panicked escape from both Chigurh and the law.

Moss hides in a seedy motel – stashing his moneyed satchel in the air vent. Unaware that the satchel also contains a hidden tracking devise, Moss returns to the motel only to discover that the Mexicans have already broken into his room and are awaiting his return to kill him. Cleverly, Moss instead rents the room next door, removes the vent panel from the shared duct and retrieves the cash before Chigurh arrives to kill the Mexicans in his room.

Moss is tracked by Chigurh to another hotel on the Mexican border. Narrowly escaping death, he is nevertheless wounded; awaking days later in a Mexican hospital to discover that another drug operative, Carson Wells (Woody Harrelson) has a proposition that just might save his life. Rejecting Wells outright, Moss telephones him later but is too late to save Wells’ life. Chigurh answers Wells’ phone, informing Moss that if he does not hand over the money his wife, Carla Jean (Kelly MacDonald) will surely die.

Moss refuses. Instead, he arranges a rendezvous with Carla Jean; his plan - to pass along the money and send her to safety. Tragically, Moss is discovered by the Mexicans and Chigurh at the rendezvous first and murdered. Witnessing the aftermath, Sheriff Bell enters Moss’s hotel room – unaware that Chigurh is standing behind the door. Bell notices similar scratch marks on the vent in the room and realizes that the money is gone.

Interestingly enough, Chigurh does not kill Bell, nor does Bell notice the assassin standing only inches away from him. Instead, Bell visits his invalided uncle, Ellis (Barry Corbin) while Chigurh hunts down Carla Jean for the cash. In a scene of open ended interpretation, Chigurh offers Carla her life if she will surrender the cash and call a coin toss – a reoccurring motif in the film. Carla refuses and Chigurh departs her home with the money, implying that he has killed her. Unfortunately for Chigurh, he is T-boned by a reckless driver, sustaining injuries to his chest and leg but managing an painful escape on foot before the police arrive.

The final moments of the movie are up for discussion, with a retired Bell relating a pair of reoccurring dreams about his father to his wife, Loretta (Tess Harper). The first dream involves lost money that his father has given him; the second is a snapshot of Bell’s father, carrying a torch through the frozen wilderness, informing Bell that he will go on ahead to wait for him. But Bell is left alone and isolated in the cold. “Then I woke up,” Bell concludes to Loretta and the audience – leaving the full poignancy and importance of the dreams a complete mystery.

No Country For Old Men is rather bleak, though compelling entertainment; its landscape of forgotten old men of the new west brutalizing one another for the sake of greed and elusive wealth is faintly reminiscent of John Huston’s The Treasure of Sierra Madre (1948) loosely reinvented for the Reservoir Dogs (1992) generation. Although the story teems with an ominous fatalism the Coen’s script redeems the narrative from just another conventional ‘death in the valley of indecision’ scenario where not even the most innocent among us will likely emerge unscathed.

Alliance Home Video's Blu-ray easily bests its DVD from a few years ago. No Country for Old Men has been released and re-released multiple times with different packaging. Word to the wise: only the packaging is different. The 1080p hi-def transfers remain exactly the same!

The Blu-ray's image is darker than the DVDs, but fairly impressive – highly stylized and with a sun burnt yellowish/orange tint that is in keeping with the original theatrical presentation. Fine details are nicely realized. There is some minor edge enhancement but nothing that will distract.

The audio is 5.1 DTS and appropriately aggressive. Extras include four vintage featurettes shot during production, including one largely self-congratulatory offering dedicated to the Coen brothers. Recommended!

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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