No Country for Old MenDuring an early and particularly brutal scene at my screening of No Country For Old Men, I overheard a viewer seated behind me mumble that she was confused as to why people were laughing. She said, "I don't get it," and then rustled brusquely in her seat, appalled that people would laugh at such a sight. Later on in the movie, as the entire audience was gasping in horror at another particular visual, this same lady was snickering in glee. This is sure to be a typical reaction from most viewers of the latest offering by the Coen brothers. Adapted from the popular 2003 novel of the same name by Cormac McCarthy, the film manages to ground us in harsh reality with its disturbing observation of the decline of American civility, while at the same time tickling us with a humorous depiction of death and meaningless violence. We sense the Coens rubbing their hands together in grim satisfaction as at one moment we're wincing in fear, yet in the very next, we're wallowing in dark, gallows humor... our moral compasses spinning wildly in all directions. Can criminals have principles? Can violence, greed, and apathy ever lead to good? These are the moral ambiguities we're left to face.

Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), while hunting antelope on the dusty stretches of Texas ranch country where sagebrush is street corner and cow plop is manhole cover, happens upon the grisly remains of a drug deal gone wrong. Bloody bodies and shattered pickup trucks litter the scene... even the pit bull guard dogs weren't spared. We're as in the dark about what went down, as is Moss. But he's more interested in the satchel full of money. $2 million worth to be exact. He stashes the money in a safe place, then frolics in delight with his perky wife, played by Kelly McDonald.

Meanwhile, one of the baddest bad guys since Jame "Buffalo Bill" Gumb, equipped with one of the most sadistic weapons ever on film, is escaping from apprehension... but not before strangling his deputy captor with his own handcuffs. Sporting a mile-long mean streak, a Starsky & Hutch coif, and a deadly cattle stun gun, he sets out in a stolen police cruiser, the electronic sensor by his side ticking frantically anytime he gets near Moss and the satchel of money. Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), as he's known, leaves behind a bloody path of death and destruction often caused by the flip of a coin - as he tracks the money.

At the film's moral center is the craggy-faced Texas sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), a disillusioned rural lawman more comfortable in front of a warm cup of coffee than he is on the trail of bad guys. He's about to retire and he views this latest botched heroin deal with disgust and resignation. To him, it's yet another leg chipped out from under the foundation of human civility. There once was a time when even criminals respected the law, but now people care more about themselves and less about whether others live or die. Sheriff Bell doesn't completely understand this latest gruesome crime scene, and when talking about it with his deputy who confirms "it's a mess ain't it sheriff," Bell casually quips, "If it ain't, it'll do till the mess gets here." But he's seasoned enough to know that Moss is a marked man.

The paths of these three men are converging. And yes, there will be blood... plenty of blood.

But that's not all. A ruthless gang of Mexican drug lords is also on the trail of the money, as well as hired gun, Carson Wells played by the powder blue leisure suite-clad Woody Harrelson, and an omnipresent posse of jacked-up pickups trucks with faceless drivers. Amazing... the odd assortment of characters lured by the lifted skirt and perfumed inner-thigh of $2 million.

As with almost every Coen Brothers film The Ladykillers and Intolerable Cruelty excluded there's more happening in the story than meets the eye. Sure, the thrill-seekers, gore-hounds and gun-nuts will find plenty to like, but there are also plenty of juicy undertones and subjective creativity in there as well. Some even claim to see Biblical references to the Christian Holy Trinity. Of course, Lone Star stater Jones' delivery is pure Texas, but the spot-on dialogue, which comes almost straight out of McCarthy's book - complete with south Texas colloquialisms - are so authentic it's hard to believe there wasn't a Texas advisor involved somewhere along the way.

Cinematographer Roger Deakins provides the follow-up punch to his earlier The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford with his portrayal of the hardscrabble west Texas countryside. His dusty, blood-soaked, sun-parched environment becomes another character almost as formidable as Chigurh. Well... almost.

Expect this one to remain fresh on voters' minds come Oscar time. It's that good.


DVD Details:

Screen formats: Widescreen Anamorphic 2.35:1

Subtitles: French; Spanish

Language and Sound: English: Dolby Digital 5.1

Other Features: Color; interactive menus; scene access; making-of featurette; Working with the Coens featurette; Diary of A Country Sheriff featurette.

* Featurettes
o The Making of No Country for Old Men
o Working with the Coens
o Diary of a Country Sheriff
* Trailers

Number of discs: - 1 - Keepcase Packaging