John Wayne who? Seriously. My father might have raised me with a healthy smattering of Wayne films every Sunday afternoon until I was ten, but this film makes the Rooster Cogburn of my youth simply fade into the sunset. It seems the Coen brothers have toppled even The Duke himself with this true adaptation of Charles Portis’ classic novel True Grit.
Fitting for their maturing style, this is the actual book on film; the dead-pan humor; the surrealism of the locale; the situation of a child enacting revenge; the slow pacing and the blood, the blood, the blood. Preserving the look and the language of the novel, The Coens not only stay true to the story presented in the book, but produce their most accessible work to date with sheer brilliance and complete mastery of their craft.
Fourteen-year-old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) wants revenge for the death of her daddy. She’s a young spitfire, yet has the sense to know that she needs to find some pretty big guns to help her out with her deadly revenge against the deadly Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin). Enter U.S. Marshal Reuben J. "Rooster" Cogburn (Jeff Bridges). Oh, he’s a mess of a man. He knows it, too. He sweats when he should perspire and he swears when he should pray. Along with Cogburn who agrees to the journey after a healthy amount of alcohol, Texas Ranger La Boeuf (Matt Damon) arrives upon the scene chasing Chaney, too. The two men tolerate each other. They don’t really like to be around each other, but they like dragging a kid around even less. Try as they might, the two can’t seem to shake loose of Mattie – who proves to be more intelligent and resourceful than the two men - as they rush toward a violent and stirring confrontation against Chaney.
Identifying most with Mattie this time around, one should not see this movie as a remake of the 1969 version, but more of a faithful adaptation of the book in that Mattie is its lead and most important character. This is her voice, her POV, and she, most importantly, makes the story work as well as it does. Steinfeld, in her debut performance, absolutely delivers a surprisingly strong, humorous, and sensitive performance as a 14-year-old out for glorious revenge. It’s almost unsettling to witness her transform from child to adult so believably on the screen in this coming of age story. This is indeed a knockout performance from one so young and it is the picture’s true star.
Bridges is, of course, brilliant in the role of Rooster. He’s so interesting to watch and “wears” the cowboy act well. At times, he’s the ramble tamble gypsy cowboy and then, almost with a sudden realization of his own vices, he’s the perfect embodiment of that romantic ideal turned on its head. Bridges chomps and chews his meat – never the scenery. His characterization of Cogburn sees him as a man to laugh alongside with and to laugh at, but never to forget. His portrayal isn’t so much of a reimagining of the character, but more of a truer depiction of the Cogburn in the book; the one with violence stomped into his soul from birth.
Damon and Brolin are also perfect cast members for this ensemble picture. Damon, representing the law and order of the South, is both a subtle and distant figure, yet effective in erasing the memory of Glen Campbell in the same role. He’s reserved, if not a little shy which makes him a bit more interesting than as written by Portis. While Brolin isn’t in it nearly as much as one would like, he certainly does deliver a very comfortable and confident performance in the villain’s boots.
Roger Deakins, once again behind the camera as the cinematographer, completely delivers a crushingly brutal portrayal of the old west. The camera lens damn near bleeds with pain and anguish and natural beauty as any picturesque beauty is sucked away. As with O Brother Where Art Thou, this isn’t a pretty world – it’s a decrepit one, burned by the sun, roughly blown by the wind, and completely abandoned by God. Yet, it’s the world of True Grit and, at times, you can damn near taste the earthy grittiness of it.
Actually experiencing a sense of taste is saying a lot about a moving picture. True Grit is that picture. The Coens don’t bring a revamping sensibility to the Western genre. They don’t have to. They simply a tell one hell of a good story; the one Portis originally wrote in 1968. Mythic and stoic, this is certainly among the best of the Coen brothers films. Theirs is an already genius canon of American modern classics that, in the next few years, I assume will only get richer.
Can we have James Dickey’s To the White Sea now? Please?
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some intense sequences of western violence including disturbing images.
Director: Joel and Ethan Coen
Writer: Joel and Ethan Coen
Cast: Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld; Josh Brolin
Memorable Movie Quote: "Fill your hands, you sons of bitches"
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Official Site: www.truegritmovie.com
Release Date: December 22, 2010
Blu-ray Release Date: Not yet on DVD/Blu-ray.
Synopsis: Fourteen-year-old Mattie Ross's (Hailee Steinfeld) father has been shot in cold blood by the coward Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), and she is determined to bring him to justice. Enlisting the help of a trigger-happy, drunken U.S. Marshal, Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), she sets out with him -- over his objections -- to hunt down Chaney. Her father's blood demands that she pursue the criminal into Indian territory and find him before a Texas Ranger named LeBoeuf (Matt Damon) catches him and brings him back to Texas for the murder of another man.
Available on Blu-ray - June 7, 2011
Screen Formats: 2.35:1
Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1; French: Dolby Digital 5.1; Portuguese: Dolby Digital 5.1; Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Two-disc set (1 BD, 1 DVD); Digital copy (on disc); DVD copy
Playback: Region A
Behold! The keys to the HD Kingdom are yours with this 1080p transfer from Paramount. It’s as perfect as the film; bold and rich in texture. Each beautiful detail is displayed with stunning clarity. Black levels are strong and equally weighted throughout the picture. Colors are warm and heat-baked (much like the characters) and the browns are strong with soil-worn texture. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless soundtrack is a perfect match for the film; shimmering with depth and thundering with brilliant shotgun blasts.
There aren’t a lot so lower your expectations. What you do get are in-depth looks at the film’s costumes, its period-accurate locale and recreations, a brief look at the characters and a look at the film’s weaponry. Other than the documentary about writer Charles Portis, it’s all-too-brief and way too inconsequential.
- Mattie's True Grit (5 min)
- From Bustles to Buckskin -- Dressing for the 1880s (8 min)
- Colts, Winchesters & Remingtons: The Guns of a Post-Civil War Western (5 min)
- Re-Creating Fort Smith (11 min)
- The Cast (5 min)
- Charles Portis -- The Greatest Writer You've Never Heard Of... (31 min)
- Theatrical Trailer
- DVD/Digital Copy