No Country for Old Men is an extraordinary film — it’s probably the strongest Best Picture winner of the last decade, it’s one of the top achievements in the consistently superb oeuvre of the Coen Brothers and it just gets better with every viewing. Cormac McCarthy’s source material certainly provides a compelling story, but more than anything, it’s the mood, the tone and the themes that the Coens extract that put this film in a different league than most. Every shot is impeccably crafted -- the mise-en-scène sparse, but filled with visual meaning.
It’s a film that is constantly subverting its western/thriller veneer, while still succeeding on a pulpier level. The scenes where the menacing Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem in an atypical, thoroughly award-deserving role) is tracking down Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) are chillingly suspenseful and better than almost anything similar, but that’s not the primary pursuit of No Country. It’s a deeply philosophical film, filled with ruminations on the changing of eras by soon-to-be-retired Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) and a commentary on morality and violence via Chigurh, who may just be the most principled character.
No Country works on a number of levels -- as a pulpy, nostalgic western; as a crime thriller; as a gorgeous piece of cinematography; and as a layered, deeply interesting film that demands multiple viewings. Most anyone can take something away, and like most of the Coens’ work, this one has punctuated bursts of violence, dark humor, and an exploration of fate. It’s a must-see film for those who haven’t, and it’s a must-see-again for those who have.
The Blu-ray Disc
No Country for Old Men is presented in 1080p high definition with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. One assumes that it’s the same transfer from the original Blu-ray release of the film, which required no improvement. This is a stunning representation of the film, far better than what standard def can provide. Picture sharpness and clarity excels no matter what kind of shot -- the sepia, color palette that defines the film really comes alive. Watching No Country in high def gave me a new appreciation for the film in a greater way than most other Blu-rays I’ve seen.
The sound is presented in Dolby DTS-HD, and it provides a wonderful platform for the excellent sound design. A lack of dialogue pervades most scenes, with only a hint of a score popping up occasionally and long stretches with little dialogue, but the sound mix is hardly idle, full of a number of small, ambient details like approaching footsteps. Near silence never sounded so good.