True Grit: Special Collector's Edition
John Wayne is one of America’s premiere actors, his films resonating because of their simplicity. His characters stood for a generation as an example of what men should be: strong, straightforward, and earnest. Although “True Grit” came at the tail-end of the era of the Western-genre, a year after the Western swan-song-opus “Once Upon A Time in the West,” the acting and cinematography make it an exemplar film, and earning Wayne his only Oscar win for one of his most complex characters.
“True Grit” follows an unlikely trio through the wilds of Indian country in search of a killer. Organized by Mattie Ross (Kim Darby), the rough-and-tumble daughter of the deceased, the group, composed of a hard-nosed, over-the-hill, drunken Marshall Rooster Cogburn (John Wayne) and the straight-laced Ranger LeBouf (Glen Campbell) who happens to be seeking the murderer for another, similar crime. The film is driven by the personality conflicts between the male protagonists, while Mattie continues to push them toward their goal. Darby’s performance is stellar, as her clever plans are aided by her acerbic tongue. The film’s setting in the untamed West heightens the tension of the quest because of the ever-present, looming threat of the native tribes.
“True Grit” is a satisfying movie, well-filmed and directed, showcasing a classic Western style. I am often struck by a sense of unreality in John Wayne films, because they are stiff and phony, reflecting an idealized view of the era. “True Grit” is different: the actors create deep, multifaceted characters that play well in the frame director Henry Hathaway observes. Created on the edge of the auteur period of American cinema, Hathaway puts his own stamp on the proceedings, letting these talented actors room to create their own characters. The supporting cast, including Dennis Hopper and Robert Duvall—the stars of tomorrow—add a lot to the film.
Cynical realism and modern sensibilities presented as a classic Wayne Western, “True Grit” has heart, beautiful vistas, plenty of gunplay, and an ambiguous moral message. It moves slow through the first half, but the rush in the last half-hour more than makes up for any shortcomings.
Despite its age, “True Grit” looks phenomenal. There is a slight touch of grain, but nary a blemish, speck, or stain. Colors are bright and vibrant, and the lines clean. The only qualm I have comes from a few of the daylight scenes, which result in a soft, haloed picture. The bulk of the film looks good, however. I have trouble believing the movie is forty-years of age; it looks that good.
While the video is sterling, the audio is lacking, but not to any great degree. Dialogue sounds canned and tinny, the 5.1 track makes little use of the surround channels, and the music cues have a limited dynamic range. LFE response is light and the high frequencies sound clipped. It is never distracting or
This single-disc set has a good mix of film-focused, making-of, and historical extras, beginning with a nice commentary from a trio of academics who study the myth of the American West, Western films and literature. The three explore the movie from a variety of perspectives, and comparing it to various other Westerns. The discussion is lively and fascinating.
“True Writing” is a featurette that compares the original novel to the final film product, using retrospective interviews, experts, and behind-the-scenes photographs. “Working with The Duke” discusses the process, unsurprisingly, of working with John Wayne. It’s a celebration of the actor and his personal character, and what he brought to the parts he played.
While the film was set in Oklahoma, Texas (and meant to be in Arkansas), it was actually filmed in a ranching community in Colorado. “Aspen Gold” is a documentary that looks at the area the movie was made. Less focused on the movie and more on the mythic reality of the American West, “The Law and the Lawless” is a featurette about the era depicted in “True Grit.”
Everything clicks in “True Grit,” resulting in a well-made movie in a classic, almost utopist style. Western fans would be hard-pressed to find a more entertaining way to spend two hours.