Studio: Paramount Pictures
US Rating: Rated PG-13 For Some Intense Sequences of Western Violence Including Disturbing Images
Film Length: 110 Mins
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Video: MPEG-4 AVC 1080P High Definition
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, French 5.1 Dolby Digital/Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital
Subtitles: English, English SDH, Spanish, French, and Portuguese
Release Date: June 7, 2011
Review Date: June 6, 2011
“You must pay for everything in this world, one way and another. There is nothing free except the grace of God”
True Grit is a rich, familiar story of murder and revenge set against the still tempering wildness of the American West, but the fields of this story are flush with characters of delightful depth and definition, in pursuit of justice – in its emerging form – and each with much to offer and much to learn. In the hands of two of the most courageous and important filmmakers working today, Joel and Ethan Coen, author Charles Portis’ novel is the recipient of another fine cinematic translation.
The Film: 4.5 out of 5
Charged with claiming her father’s remains in the township of Fort Smith following his murder, young Mattie Ross seeks to employ the considerable tracking talents of the irascible Rooster Cogburn; a U.S. Marshal renowned for his delivery of justice, often with the unforgiving fortitude of a gun, and his gruff, drunken disposition. Young Mattie, a brazen 14 year old with a keen intellect and a sharp tongue, seeks revenge against Tom Chaney, the ruthless outlaw who gunned down her father, leaving her and siblings fatherless and her mother a widow. Cogburn begrudgingly takes on the task of tracking Chaney down – venturing into dangerous Indian Territory accompanied by Mattie, insistent upon being present when Chaney is caught, and a cocksure Texas Ranger looking to snag Chaney first and haul him to the lone star state to answer for earlier crimes.
When it was announced that True Grit, one of the legendary John Wayne’s best films, was to be remade, one could almost sense the global furrowing of brows. Hearing that it would be crafted by the hands of Joel and Ethan Coen, gifted writers and directors of American classics Fargo, No Country for Old Men, Miller’s Crossing among others, curiosity was piqued. Perhaps none could have foreseen the extent to which the Coen Brother’s would master the material, delivering a wholly original perspective on the tale while remaining faithful and respectful of the original John Wayne classic and the novel from which it was born. Remakes are a prickly subject, for every person intrigued by what a new vision could bring to even the most revered of classics, there are choruses of folk dismayed at the possibility – or the reasoning – behind such moves. True Grit demonstrates that with the right care, cast, and crafting, remake need not be a dirty word.
Great westerns, of which this 2010 remake certainly can be considered, care more for the characters at the core and soul of the story than any preoccupation with grand set piece spectacles or complicated mystery of drama – though such things are not precluded. The joy of the greatest westerns is unconditionally embroiled in the wit, wisdom, mystique, or square jaw of the leading figure – or group – and their labor and task to protect, pursue or avenge. Clint Eastwood occupied that role in a number of the very best westerns, as did John Wayne, Gary Cooper, James Stewart and others too. In recent years, Russell Crowe has delivered a fine performance in 3:10 to Yuma, Kevin Costner rode strong in Open Range, and now Jeff Bridges has delivered one of his most superb performances as Rooster Cogburn.
John Wayne received his one and only Oscar for his performance as the grouchy Cogburn – a performance that was considered over-the-top by many at the time, and Jeff Bridges was nominated for the Best Actor Academy Award though he lost to Colin Firth from The King’s Speech; a shame. Bridges crafts a magnificently likeable, acerbic and mean-spirited U.S. Marshal, physically weighted by poor-health and a drunkards affliction, but his shooting is no-less for the wear. Bridges delivers a master class performance, pulling from within himself a person quite unlike the Jeff Bridges we have seen throughout his career. As young Mattie is newcomer Hailee Steinfeld in a performance that defies expectations for one so young (she was just 14 during filming, the same as her character – as a comparison, Kim Darby in the original was nearing 22 when she played the same role). Steinfeld’s nomination for Best Supporting Actress was absolutely deserved with one caveat – she should have been nominated in the Best Actress category for her presence and performance is integral to almost every scene. Matt Damon’s portrayal as the more kept and particular Texas Ranger, La Boeuf, is a delightful spoil to Bridges ruffled Cogburn. Balancing the comedic and peculiar nature of the proud ranger with the dramatic tones surrounding many scenes, required finding the line of parody to understand yet not cross, and Damon walks that line with aplomb. Josh Brolin gives Tom Chaney a fool’s demeanor bolstered by a sadistic streak. His presence in the film may be limited, but he makes that presence felt. An almost unrecognizable Barry Pepper infuses Lucky Ned Pepper – the gang leader with whom Chaney has hitched his wagon – with a serious menace and believable respectability. It’s a fleeting but terrific supporting performance.
The Coen Brothers are great filmmakers and have crafted and presented yet another great film. Their preoccupation with the intimacy of characters against dramatic natural desolation is quite unlike any other filmmakers working today. Each scene is crisp with beautiful cinematography – courtesy of Roger Deakins, ASC, BSC – and riddled with a sense of humor and mesmerizing grit sewn together with a simply brilliant script. The pacing is brisker than their last serious outing (No Country for Old Men), moving through the story with an organic step, pausing to instruct us only on the nature of the characters we will understand and appreciate through the prism of conversation to pass the time and a few brief scenes of brutality. True Grit is an absolutely wonderful piece of filmmaking and certainly one of the best films of 2010.
The Video: 4.5 out of 5
True Grit is presented in 1080p High Definition, with an MPEG-4 AVC codec. This transfer is gorgeous. The amount of detail is a sight to behold yet there remains the film quality without any needless digital tinkering or unwarranted interference. The unforgiving west is not lush, but the wheat-golden grasses and weeds strike a beautiful contrast against the grey/blue of Cogburn’s clothes and his Golden brown horse. Night scenes appear bathed in natural light from fire – inside and out – and the limitlessly deep blacks swarming such scenes are lovely. A stunning transfer.
The Sound: 5 out of 5
Carter Burwell – longtime musical collaborator with the Coen Brothers – delights in orchestral scores of lyrical minimalism, and through the excellence of this 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track, can be enjoyed with glorious precision. Though heavily a dialogue piece, True Grit fills the surrounds with the open air of the untamed territories, the snap of gunfire in open spaces, and the thunderous rumble of horses and shotguns when the moment calls for it. Throughout there is an unmistakable clarity and perfection to this audio. Absolutely no issues and every opportunity is fully embraced to create and audio showing of the terrific sound design.
The Extras: 3.5 out of 5
Mattie’s True Grit (5:13): Hailee Steinfeld discusses auditioning, getting, and exploring the role of the plucky Mattie Ross.
From Bustles to Buckskin—Dressing for the 1880s (8:02): Costume Designer Mary Zophres shares her approach to the costumes adorning the characters throughout the classic western time, and Jeff Bridges discuss finding the perfect look and style for the character.
Colts, Winchesters & Remingtons: The Guns of a Post-Civil War Western (4:41): The weaponry is quite integral to the story and the research performed – mining the original Charles Portis novel – to get the guns and holsters and other paraphernalia right.
Re-Creating Fort Smith (11:20): Robert Graf (executive producer) and the production designer, art director, and others discuss redressing an existing town to fit the timeframe of the story.
The Cast (5:25): A look at the absolutely grand cast assembled for this new American classic – the Coen brothers first western – and the roles they so masterfully inhabit. The seasoned actors share their appreciation for the skill of newcomer Hailee.
Charles Portis—The Greatest Writer You’ve Never Heard Of… (30:54): An affectionate look at Charles Portis, author of True Grit – with reflections by historians, fans such as Dwight Yokam and Nora Ephron among others. This surprisingly thoughtful special feature peeks into this mythical writer known as much for his abstaining from the limelight as for his works themselves, covers his beginning as an author and his writing of highly regarding novels.
The Cinematography of True Grit (2:57): Roger Deakins discusses his craft and this special feature showcases some of his most spectacular – and disarmingly simple – scenes using light and the frame of natural beauty to create wonderful shots. This is
As rare as it is, the Coen Brother’s remake of True Grit exceeds the original in almost every way. It is a tenacious tale with absolutely top-notch performances and offers a flawless technical and artistic presentation of a western tale. It is a superb piece of filmmaking and should be a part of any serious film-lovers collection.
Overall 4.5 out of 5