No Country for Old Men is a lot of things. An Academy Award-winning movie. A Coen Brothers film. A recent release on Blu-ray Disc. But more important, at least from an artistic point of view, No Country for Old Men is the closest anyone has come to re-creating a piece of literature since Pete Jackson did with his The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men is a film by medium alone. Its plot, presentation and pacing comes straight from a page-turner, and the result is not just a fantastic movie, but a fantastic addition to anyone’s Blu-ray Disc collection as well.
In the film, an unassuming petty thief played by Josh Brolin stumbles upon $2 million in cash. Rather than skip town immediately, Brolin’s character develops a conscience and, after returning to the scene of the drug deal gone bad, finds himself hunted by a psychopathic killer who wants the money. The local sheriff, played by Tommy Lee Jones, gets involved as well, but because he’s not familiar with this “new world” of psychopaths and silenced shotguns, he finds himself completely stumped and consistently one step behind both Brolin and the psychopath (played by Javier Bardem).
No Country for Old Men follows the stories of all three men, plus some minor characters played by Woody Harrelson and Kelly MacDonald. The story weaves naturally between all three characters, and as the interactions build up to the tense final minutes, what the film accomplishes in terms of character development is nothing short of masterful. In fact, it’s this character development that really makes No Country for Old Men stand out from all other recent films, a factor that relies in large part on the novel on which the Coen Brothers” movie is based. However, the Coen Brothers definitely add their own flair to augment the story.
For starters, the movie quite literally has no soundtrack, which does wonders in terms of immersing you in the story. With the exception of a single note carried out for 20 seconds in one scene, the entirety of the film relies on nothing but environmental audio and dialogue. As a result, after about 20 minutes you actually forget you’re watching a movie and instead feel more like a bystander watching the whole thing play out in person. I can probably count on a single hand the number of music-less movies I’ve watched, and if No Country for Old Men is an accurate gauge for what music-free films can achieve in terms of immersion, I hope I never hear another soundtrack outside of an action film.
That relative lack of action, however, is also one of the drawbacks of No Country for Old Men, at least on Blu-ray. The dialogue and environmental audio maintain incredible fidelity, and the volume levels from car engines to voice are incredibly balanced. Normally, that’s just one piece of the Blu-ray audio puzzle, but with no action or louder-than-life special effects, it’s hard to say the uncompressed audio really stands out on this Blu-ray Disc. As discussed, it’s actually the lack of audio that stands out more than anything. But we’re not complaining.
The AVC-encoded 1080p transfer is also good, although it definitely benefits from the narrative nature of the film. Technically, the playback has a pretty inconsistent bitrate, as it ranges from the low to mid-teens mbps in nighttime scenes to 20s-30s mbps in daytime scenes. Normally this could lead to some choppy playback, but since No Country for Old Men really has no action-packed sequences, the overall presentation doesn’t suffer. With no rapidly moving parts, you’re left to watch the characters walk, talk and move on the set — none of which is really affected by the variable playback bitrate.
No Country for Old Men is pretty conservative in the bonus feature department, too, with just three of them totaling just over 39 minutes. The first, The Making of No Country for Old Men (24:29, 480p), focuses very appropriately on the film, plot, production and actors themselves, as there are no large special-effects scenes to break down as so many movies do in their “making of” featurettes. This bonus feature opens with casting discussions and how each actor really embodies his or her on-screen character, then transitions smoothly to location scouting, costuming and weapons. The weapons segment is a nice touch, considering the surprisingly fascinating nature of several weapons in the story.
Next on the bonus feature plate is Working with the Coens (8:07, 480p), a series of interviews with the cast and crew about what it’s like to work with filmmaking brothers who basically share a brain. At least, that’s the impression everyone gives. The segment flirts with being overly praising of the brothers, but since they did win an Academy Award for the film, I suppose a little of that is warranted. To be perfectly honest, though, this featurette could have been cut in half and added to the “Making of” feature, and nothing would’ve really been lost in the process. In fact, I would have much rather watched a feature about novelist Cormac McCarthy and the transition of the book to film. Unfortunately, this sort of bonus feature is not only not present anywhere on the disc, but the author isn’t even interviewed.
Rounding out the bonus features is Diary of a Country Sheriff (6:44, 480p), a tandem of character studies for both Sheriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones” character) and Anton Chigurh (the killer played by Javier Bardem). These character studies compare and contrast the characters to show their differences in purpose but similarities in codes and ethics. In essence, these diaries explore the “old versus new” dichotomy between the two men using interviews with the cast and Coen Brothers, as well as clips from the movie itself. The only real downfall with this piece is the audio, which sounds awkwardly and forcibly spliced together at times.
But “awkward” and “forced” are definitely not words to describe the rest of No Country for Old Men. There’s a reason this film won the Academy Award for Best Picture, both for its fantastic pacing and its artistic representation of a great story. The Coen Brothers may have been called brave for creating this movie the way they did, but considering the payoff in theaters and in this Blu-ray Disc, there’s no bravery required on our part to recommend No Country for Old Men to anyone who likes a good story, not just good action, in their Blu-ray library.
– Jonas Allen