It’s easy to draw superficial comparisons between “No Country For Old Men” and “Fargo.” Both feature a salt-of-the-earth sheriff pursuing criminals more devious than they can imagine. Both feature an everyday family man who tangles with said criminals and finds himself in over his head as he desperately tries to preserve a financial windfall. Both feature a ruthless killer who speaks only when necessary. They even feature similar-looking satchels brimming with cash.
Of course, the differences are quite clear: Marge Gunderson (“Fargo”) achieves some kind of closure by the end, while Ed Bell heads into retirement lamenting how his world changed so dramatically under his watch. Llewelyn Moss (“No Country For Old Men”) shows some moral conscience when he takes a selfless action that gets him into trouble, while Jerry Lundegaard is willing to sacrifice his wife to fix his financial troubles. And Anton Chigurh (“No Country For Old Men”) displays a ruthless disregard for life that would probably make Gaear Grimsrud cringe.
Moss ignites the story in “No Country For Old Men” by coming across a drug deal gone bad and taking off with two million dollars he finds in a satchel. One of the Mexicans he came across was barely still alive, however, and Moss returns to the scene with some water for the man. When more Mexican drug runners show up, however, he finds himself on the run from not only them but also Chigurh, who has been hired to locate the money and is willing to do anything to get it. Meanwhile, Sheriff Bell is trying to not only apprehend Chigurh, who has gone on a killing spree, but also locate Moss and help him out of the mess he’s in. Moss, though, wants to hang onto the ill-gotten loot any way he can.
The plot ricochets across the harsh west Texan landscape — and even into Mexico at one point — as the characters pursue each other. While we’re treated to some moments of humor, the story is unrelentingly bleak, a tale of changing times and the scrambled circumstances that accompany this new world. Long gone are the old days, Bell laments, when a sheriff could do his job without even needing a firearm. Moss acts as a bridge between the old and the new, a good man with a conscience who nonetheless finds himself tempted by an easy find and lets his desire for money override everything else.
Chigurh is the variable in this new equation, a man not of this environment, as the Coen brothers note in the 24-minute making-of documentary on this DVD. An outsider, he has no qualms about killing anyone who gets in his way, and he adheres to a perverse moral code leading him to take actions that make sense only to him. While the story seems to give in to coincidence too easily at times, as Chigurh catches up with Moss on more than one occasion, I thought he functioned much like the shark in “Jaws,” a preternatural force guided by some unseen hand toward its destiny. (Yes, I realize Chigurh was using the transponder to track Moss, but it didn’t seem to have enormous range, and Chigurh seemed to get lucky by randomly driving around until his receiver started beeping. The key word, of course, is “seemed,” as seen in the context of his function in the story.)
“No Country For Old Men” may not appeal to even many Coen brothers fans, with its unrelentingly violent and grim story, but it’s a film worth watching and contemplating. Despite the fact that it takes place in 1980, its view of a changing world seems very apropos in the year 2008, as our world tries to navigate its own transformation amid some very strong competing forces.
Like most DVDs of the Coen brothers’ films, the extras are light on this disc, and I can’t imagine there will be a two-disc Special Edition coming down the pike, despite the fact that they finally picked up Best Picture honors at the Oscars for one of their movies. Their attitudes seem to be midway between a guy like Stanley Kubrick, who spoke precious little about his movies during his lifetime, and a guy like Peter Jackson, who’s willing to lay bare every minute detail of his creative process. The Coens come across as guys who want to say just enough to make the fans happy but not so much that they reveal all of their tricks.
This DVD leads off with that aforementioned documentary, which features interviews with all of the major creative talent on the film. Unfortunately, there are no comments on this disc from Cormac McCarthy, who wrote the novel on which the movie was based; I would have liked to have heard his thoughts, if he was willing to offer them. “The Making of ‘No Country For Old Men'” is on par with the featurettes found on many previous Coen releases on DVD.
“Working with the Coens” (eight minutes) and “Diary of a Country Sheriff” (seven minutes) round off this platter. They pretty much deliver what you expect, with the former a feel-good piece on how much people love working with the Coens and the latter a discussion of Sheriff Bell, whose observations frame the movie. As you might expect, there’s no commentary on this disc.