True Grit – the 2010 remake of the John Wayne western – came out at the tail end of the year. Like many Coen Brothers pictures, it was expected to be an Academy front runner, and a modest box office success. That was wrong on both counts, as the film never got that much Oscar traction (there was hope Roger Deakins would finally win an academy award, but no luck), and the film was a huge hit – grossing within a million of the hugely publicized franchise relaunch Tron Legacy. Jeff Bridges stars as Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn, who is hired by Mattie Ross (Haliee Steinfeld) to find Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), the man who killed her father. Texas Ranger LaBeouf (Matt Damon) is also on the hunt for Chaney as well. Our review of the Blu-ray follows after the jump.
Told from Mattie’s perspective, the film follows her as she comes to see to her father’s burial, but has her mind on revenge. She asks for the best Marshall, and is told that Cogburn is the meanest, so she pursues him. He is a drunk and dismissive of her, but – as the film shows – she’s stubborn beyond reproach and knows how to get her way. She also insists on going along with Rooster. LaBeouf is also on the hunt for Tom Chaney, but wants to take him to Texas to get his. Mattie will have none of that.
Neither man wants her on the road (though LaBeouf shows he’s a little attracted to her), but the three end up together, with LaBeouf leaving them throughout to go it alone. We then get to dig into Cogburn’s character, and he’s a drunk, but talkative. And both men eventually warm to Mattie and respect her – nearly as a peer. They find a homestead where they think Chaney might be- it goes bad and they think they may have lost the trail, but Chaney has taken up with Lucky Ned Pepper (Barry Pepper), and there must be a standoff.
A tale well told, if this is minor Coen, it’s still majorly entertaining. Joel and Ethan Coen suggested all they did was just adapt the book (and others have noted how similar it is to the John Wayne version), but they did so cleanly, and this marks another really good film from them. It doesn’t seem to have the passion of their strongest works (to that end I prefer Burn After Reading), but the fact that they made a successful western that works is enough. This is a massively entertaining movie, and it gets great performances out of its leads. Hailee Steinfeld is commanding in her first big role, and she never comes across as acting – even with the challenging cadence of the material. Jeff Bridges is right at home and grunts his way through the role, while Matt Damon seems to take a delight in playing ugly, and takes the abuse usually heaped on Steve Buscemi in his Coen appearances. But I think my favorite performance is Josh Brolin, who plays the killer in unexpected ways. He’s both simpler and more dangerous than previously assumed.
Paramount’s Blu-ray edition also comes with a DVD and digital copy. The film is presented widescreen (2.35:1) and in DTS-HD 5.1 surround. Deakins’ work is captured brilliantly, and the sound and picture look just as good as it did theatrically. Extras are mostly featurettes. “Mattie’s True Grit” (5 min.) speaks about the character and Steinfeld’s performance, while “From Bustles to Buckskin: Dressing for the 1880’s” (8 min.) gives the costumes their due. “Colts, Winchesters & Remingtons: The Guns of a Post-Civil War Western” (5 min.) and “Re-Creating Fort Smith” (11 min.) are self explanatory, while “The Cast” (5 min.) covers the basics. The best supplement is “Charles Portis – The Greatest Writer You’ve Never Heard of…” (31 min.), which gets such disparate voices as Roy Blount Jr., Dwight Yokham and Nora Ephron to praise Portis. Most disappointing is “The cinematography of True Grit” (3 min.) partly because Frosty got a better interview out of him, and there’s much more to say. The disc wraps up with the film’s theatrical trailer.