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" Keep cool brothers, we’re the saviors of soul "
— Johnny Murphy, The Commitments

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Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Dark of the Moon is the best of the Transformers trilogy. —Matt Anderson (review...)

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The release of No Country for Old Men on DVD is an opportunity to look at the film anew after all the hype and the Oscar wins and see whether it was really as good as they say.

It is. No Country for Old Men holds up very well on the small screen and on second viewing. If anything, the movie is better the second time around, because you have the chance to look at the corners and sides of the screen. You don’t need to pay attention to the story as closely; you can focus on the characters, their faces, their choice of words, and on the impeccable pacing imposed by the Coen brothers and their editor “Roderick Jaynes” (also the Coen brothers).

For Whom the Bell Tolls

Holds up well on the small screen and lives up to the hype and hoopla
Holds up well on the small screen and lives up to the hype and hoopla

Sheriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) is a competent, methodical man who always seems to be one step behind the other two protagonists (Josh Brolin and Javier Bardem) who are both chasing a suitcase full of Mexican drug money found in the dusty desert border. Then again, he’s at the age where he’s thinking more about retirement than about his work.

As befits Cormack McCarty, the visual style is bleak. The tone is fatalistic. There are empty roads, distant horizons, and vast spaces. There are lawless men and impotent lawmen. There are missed connections, lost opportunities, and moral failings. It’s a world of bad men that’s easy to get trapped in and impossible to escape from.

McCarthy’s bleak setting is offset by the Coens’ light touch. They add a little bit of levity, for example, in Bardem’s mop of a hairdo, in the deadpan reactions of the colorful and clueless supporting characters, and in the fashions of the early 1980s in Texas.

People love to praise Tommy Lee Jones, and indeed he’s very good at what he does. Yet he always seems to play the same man. Compare Sheriff Bell to the role he played in In the Valley of Elah; also a lawman, on the other side of retirement, methodical, saddened by the younger generation, yet stoic about change. Is it really a great performance if it comes so naturally? Maybe so, but I found Bardem more interesting.

Bardem is excellent as the sociopath Chigurh. He exudes tons of menace and he has a great presence. Chigurh is at home in the desert, riding the tide of fate like a Force of Nature. He’s not unlike the Lone Biker of the Apocalypse from Raising Arizona, only more gruesome. At least that’s how he sees himself — one of his intended victims calls him on it at the end and he seems just a little shaken.

DVD Extras

There are three extra features on this DVD: The Making of No Country for Old Men, Working with the Coens, and Diary of a Country Sheriff. The three could have been combined into a single “making-of” documentary, as the boundaries between them are indistinct.

The most impressive thing about these extra features is that the Coens participated, going on-camera to talk about the movie. They are not coy about their work; they are forthright and well spoken. They help make these featurettes feel less like marketing material and more like documentaries on the making of a film.

Still, these features are only as interesting as the anecdotes they contain. Some of the highlights are hearing Kelly MacDonald speaking in her natural Scottish accent (she has a completely believable Texas drawl when she’s in character), and seeing the genuine esteem in which everyone holds the Coens. Though they almost never grate, these features are not essential.

Picture and Sound

The picture quality is outstanding, not surprisingly. It may even be cleaner than the print that I saw at the theater. That said, some of the visuals that I remember best from the theater — Brolin turning off the light and then picking up his hat in silhouette, Brolin watching the crack of light under the hotel-room door — have much less impact on a smaller screen. The audio track is clean and sparse. The quality of the sound will have more to do with how quiet your home theater is than with how loud your stereo system is.

The worst thing about this DVD is that the menus are encoded anamorphically, but none of the extra features are. So keep your remote handy.

How to Use This DVD

Watch the movie. If this is your second time, don’t sweat the plot; study the actors for motive and emotion. Appreciate the storytelling in the simple, bold editing. You’ll get something new out of the movie this second time around.

If you’re so inclined, watch the extra features, but you won’t miss anything if you skip them altogether.