Is there much the Coens can’t do to near perfection? They’ve tackled the crime caper, film noir, rom-com, gangster pic, and with No Country for Old Men, modern Western. Many of the Coen films have commonalities: a streak of dark humor; bleak wasteland settings of desert or snow (or in the case of The Big Lebowski, Los Angeles); characters who seem at odds in their place and time. No Country, though, might be the quintessential Coen brothers film, harking back to their complex, surreal Blood Simple some 20-plus years ago.
If you’ve been under a rock for the last few months and don’t know the story, listen up: Vietnam vet Llewellyn Moss (Josh Brolin) encounters a pile of corpses both human and animal while out hunting along the Mexican border, as well as a pile of drugs and dough--$2 mil, to be exact. But nothing in life comes free: the cash “belongs” to one pageboy-haired, dead-eyed psychopath named Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), who stops at nothing to get it back. Meanwhile, cantankerous burnout Sheriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), is on Chigurh’s tail like Pepe LePew with a country accent, relentless in his pursuit of the killer who dares commit one heinous crime after another in his district.
Coen movies live in the details—here, the sight of a dog pursuing Moss down a river, his black pit bull head bobbing above the rapids, becomes impossibly funny, as does a scene when Chigurh strangles an annoyingly hapless deputy, his heels kicking and scuffing the linoleum. The relentless “sssssssssss” of Chigurh’s air gun/killing machine punctuates the frequent silence (this is a film short on dialogue and completely without music). White-hot spots of light pierce the cover of night and clouds and shadows mar the blanched landscape, as tragic events take place under the bright Texas sun.
Extras: The single-disc DVD is about as lean and mean as the film itself, and I’m guessing they made it long before anyone thought it would win Best Pic. If it had more extras on, say, a 2-disc special edition, I’d have given this 4 of 4 stars. As it is, you have three featurettes: “Working with the Coens: Reflections of Cast and Crew,” which gives a look at the filmmakers from their colleagues’ points of view. There’s also a 23-minute “Making of” segment, and “Diary of a Country Sheriff,” probably the most interesting of the three, which gets more in-depth into the relationship between Sheriff Bell and Anton Chigurh.
Overview:: If you’re expecting sunny Raising Arizona moments or screwball quirk a la O Brother Where Art Thou?, that’s not this film. Unnerving, brutal and gripping, No Country might be tough to watch, but is definitely worth your while.