True Grit

"True Grit" on Blu-ray

The Coen Brothers' remake of the Henry Hathaway/John Wayne classic is a worthy remake, much better than many remakes I've seen over the years.

It's very similar to the first film as well, which is a good thing since the first is arguably a classic western. The Coens could have thrown away the original concept and gone their own way, but they wisely chose to stick with the original story.

Paramount’s Blu-ray comes in a combo pack with a DVD and digital copy in the box; the Blu-ray does the film justice, with good audio and video and a decent set of extras.

Starring Jeff Bridges in the role for which John Wayne got his only Oscar (though he was much better in other films), it's the tale of a young woman's search for justice – or perhaps vengeance would be a better word – after her father is gunned down by a low life drunk in his employ.

Both versions of "True Grit" were based on the Charles Portis novel, and both feature intelligent screenplays with three dimensional characters you can really get behind.

The story follows plucky teenager Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), who hires boozin' deputy US Marshal Reuben "Rooster" Cogburn (Bridges) to go on her manhunt, since no one else seems able and/or willing to help her find Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin, in the role originated by Jeff Corey), the man who killed her father when the latter was trying to help him not make a fool of himself.

They're joined on their odyssey by Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon, replacing the original film's Glen Campbell - who appears to have been hired back in the day because he was a hot commodity, with a big time singing career and a TV variety show – because his skills as a thespian were non-existent).

Anyway, this "marriage of convenience" between Mattie, Rooster and "LeBeef" is a cat-and-or-dogfight just waiting to break out as the tough and tenacious teenager forces her male compadres through her force of will to take her along on the trip, against their better judgement.

It's tough not to like (Hailee Steinfeld) as Mattie, though I think Kim Darby was even better in the original film. Her character brooks no nonsense, and is fully capable and willing to do whatever it takes to reach her goal, including using a handgun. And she can out-dicker the best man (as we see more than once) and, if she isn’t taken seriously by the adults, she isn’t afraid to bring up the spectre of her family lawyer as a threat. Also to her credit, she doesn't go all girly when the going gets tough, and she keeps her eye focused firmly on the goal at all times.

Well, there is a matter of some snakes…

Unlike John Wayne (who almost seemed to be winking at the audience in a performance that, while great, seemed more a parody of his movie persona than an Oscar-caliber outing), Bridges plays the part straight, and he does it very well. I think he’s better here than he was in his own Oscar-winning role in "Crazy Heart."

And thank goodness for Matt Damon. While on the one hand, a chimpanzee would come off like Lord Olivier next to Glen Campbell, Damon at least has some acting chops and his Texas Ranger is less childish and petulant and more believable. He also has good chemistry with Bridges and Steinfeld.

Brolin, and Barry Pepper have what are basically minor roles, though these journeyman performers bring credibility to their parts and handle the rather eloquent dialogue well. These are people who, while they may not be ivy league schooled, are nonetheless not stupid. Well, most of them.

True Grit isn't really a comedy, but it's definitely a "light" drama with many humorous moments, thanks to its smart screenplay. And even though it's a remake, both versions of the film credit the original novel and, despite some differences between them (including endings that are very different from each other), they're basically the same film – two different visions of the same tale, which makes watching them both an interesting evening in the home theater.

One thing I missed about the Coen version is the beautiful Colorado locations of the first film. There's some nice scenery in this "True Grit," but nothing as spectacular as in the Hathaway film. This doesn't really affect the plot, of course.

Paramount's 1080p Blu-ray looks very nice, with a nice and crisp (2.40:1) presentation that boasts excellent detail and good depth. The colors look more than a tad washed out, but this appears to be a deliberate choice by the filmmakers and as such, the BD is an accurate representation of it. Because of that faded look, however, the disc isn't quite reference quality, but it's very watchable nonetheless.

The audio quality, which is presented in dts-HD 5.1, is a definite upgrade from the original film, thanks to advances in sound since then. It's very good indeed, immersive, with good dynamics (just what you need when there's gunplay!) and has some nice use of the surround channels. 

Extras include a selection of high def featurettes, including: "Behind the Scenes with Mattie Ross," "Bustles, Chaps and Cowboy Hats (Dressing for the 1880's), "Colts, Winchesters & Remingtons: The Guns of a Post-Civil War Western," "Recreating Fort Smith," and "Charles Portis - The Greatest Writer You've Never Heard Of."

You also get a feature on the film's excellent cinematography, the cast and the trailer.

I'm still of two minds as to which version of "True Grit" is the best. They both do a good job of telling Mattie's tale, and both are very similar. I guess I'll have to watch them back to back a couple of more times to make up my mind.

Here's an idea - and one that Paramount will undoubtedly love - why not get both and decide for yourself?

True Grit, from Paramount Home Entertainment
110 minutes, 1080/24p widescreen (2.40:1), dts-HD Master Audio
Starring Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Hailee Steinfeld, Josh Brolin
Written and directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen

Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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