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True Grit (2010) DVD Review

True Grit (2010) movie poster True Grit

Theatrical Release: December 22, 2010 / Running Time: 110 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Directors: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen / Writers: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen (screenplay); Charles Portis (novel)

Cast: Jeff Bridges (Reuben "Rooster" Cogburn), Hailee Steinfeld (Mattie Ross), Matt Damon (LaBoeuf), Josh Brolin (Tom Chaney), Barry Pepper (Lucky Ned Pepper), Dakin Matthews (Col. Stonehill), Jarlath Conroy (Undertaker), Paul Rae (Emmett Quincy), Domnhall Gleeson (Moon (The Kid)), Elizabeth Marvel (40-Year-Old Mattie), Roy Lee Jones (Yarnell), Ed Lee Corbin (Bear Man), Leon Russom (Sheriff), Bruce Green (Harold Parmalee), Candyce Hinkle (Boarding House Landlady), Peter Leung (Mr. Lee), Don Pirl (Cole Younger), Joe Stevens (Cross-Examining Lawyer), David Lipman (First Lawyer)

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There are many words with which you can describe writers-directors Joel and Ethan Coen. Among the more commonly used ones are "original", "offbeat", and "unusual." The brothers got into filmmaking with 1984's Blood Simple. That and just about every one of their movies since then have welcomed such adjectives in their assessments. If you were to simply look at the facts, then, it might seem that the Coens departed from their distinctive, challenging, and critically celebrated style on their latest effort. After all, it was a PG-13 remake executive-produced by Steven Spielberg and released three days before Christmas that would become one of the holiday season's biggest hits and enjoyed by audiences of almost all ages.
Fear not that the siblings have abandoned their principles, because True Grit was every bit as hailed (and deservingly so) as any of the duo's fourteen less profitable prior movies. The ten Academy Award nominations it received bested every past Coen Brothers film and all but one of the hundreds of 2010 movies in contention.

Whether you deem it a remake of the 1969 movie that won John Wayne the only Oscar of his career or a new interpretation of Charles Portis' 1968 novel of the same name, True Grit goes down as one of few Coen films not to spring from their minds. They had done a few adaptations before: O Brother Where Art Thou? cited Homer's Odyssey (earning it adapted screenplay Oscar designation), Miller's Crossing was inspired by a couple of uncredited Dashiell Hammett novels, their coolly-received The Ladykillers remade a 1955 Alec Guinness comedy, and their 2007 Best Picture winner No Country for Old Men was famously born from an acclaimed Cormac McCarthy novel. The lattermost work, set on the Texas-Mexico border in 1980, seems to have whetted the Coens' whistle for a full-blown Western, a label that True Grit certainly earns.

Pigtailed precocious 14-year-old protagonist Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) searches for a bounty hunter to serve justice to her father's murderer. Notorious one-eyed U.S. Marshal Reuben "Rooster" Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) doesn't seriously consider Mattie's plan to accompany him on the job.

Set in 1878, the film follows mature 14-year-old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) on a quest for justice against Tom Chaney, the man who recently robbed and murdered her father. Her search for an appropriate bounty hunter starts and ends with Reuben "Rooster" Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), a cranky, notorious, one-eyed U.S. Marshal with over twenty kills to his name. Cogburn is reluctant to accept the job and skeptical that Mattie can pay his $50 fee. He's also outright dismissive to the idea that Mattie tag along with him into Indian country where the wanted man (Josh Brolin) is believed to be and to Mattie's request to bring the outlaw to Arkansas and charge him there, when Chaney is also being pursued for the murder of a Texas state senator.

For that crime, Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) has been hunting Chaney for three months with no success. He joins Cogburn on the mission and the two are also accompanied by the determined Mattie, who refuses to let them ride off without her.

True Grit is not heavy on plot, instead establishing the premise, developing the three lead characters and following them out into the perilous wilderness. It does an excellent job on all three fronts, with the Coens taking great interest in each task. The assembly of the three strong-willed and oft-confrontational individuals, each with their own motivation and angle to the proposed capture of Chaney, is one rock-solid core, from which great intrigue emerges. The genre is more known for galloping and shooting than talking and some viewers may start itching for the action the film long resists as it finds and sticks to an appealing rhythm. It's tough to find fault with the scenes of back and forth dialogue, which are both rich and spirited.

Soon enough, though, there is some conflict found in an encounter with two skittish outlaws. More gunplay follows when a gang of seven descends on the same location. The Coens do not treat such material with disinterest, but there is never the sense that this is the main event. "Retribution" was the central word in the film's marketing campaign and it remains on our mind throughout, precluding the Coens from giving us another of their unresolved, open-to-interpretation endings they've been fond of lately.

Neither Marshal Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) nor Texas Ranger LaBeouf (Matt Damon) is particularly welcoming towards the young girl determined to join them on their perilous quest for justice.

Receiving ten Oscar nominations can always be a misleading measure of a film's acclaim. After all, several nominations are virtually unattainable for contemporary and animated movies. Still, True Grit only got a boost in a couple of those categories and it was also recognized in nearly every major one, including Directing, Adapted Screenplay, Leading Actor, Supporting Actress, and Best Picture. That it lost all ten awards, even as films like The Wolfman and Alice in Wonderland won statues, takes away nothing from the accomplishment.
Perhaps the most intriguing element of the film's Academy Awards campaign was the supporting actress classification applied to Hailee Steinfeld, seemingly to aid the 14-year-old's sporting chances, despite the fact that she appears in almost every scene.

As deserving of the title phrase as the marshal it is applied to, Steinfeld's turn as young, steadfast Mattie goes down as one of the great child actor performances on film. Run through the Coens' copy of Final Draft, the heroine is so strongly written that it's tough to imagine that many of the reported 15,000 girls auditioning for the part would be ineffective, but that doesn't detract from Steinfeld's work and the Coens' commendable casting of the role.

The other standout part, of course, belongs to Jeff Bridges and it's tough to see anyone supplying the necessary crotchetiness as believably as him. Reuniting him with the directors whose dark 1998 comedy The Big Lebowski (gradually as celebrated as any Coen Brothers movie) became a career-defining experience twelve years earlier. Two years younger than John Wayne when he played the part (which is written at least fifteen years younger than either man), Bridges is pitch-perfect in the role, supplying grandfatherly airs of buried decency and humor, without recalling "The Dude" as he has been wont to do in some recent roles. Had Colin Firth won the Best Actor Oscar for 2009's A Single Man, instead of Bridges for Crazy Heart, the results this year could easily have been switched, for Firth to lose for The King's Speech and Bridges to be recognized for his over 40 years in the business.

An appealing combination of art and entertainment, True Grit was one of three films that over the holiday season attracted an unusual mix of high acclaim and large audiences (the others were King's Speech and Black Swan). True Grit led the pack commercially, grossing over $171 million domestically and an additional $78 M overseas on a modest budget of $38 M. Calling it the biggest hit of the Coens' careers doesn't do justice to its tour de force box office performance, which earned it well over twice anything else the brothers have made to date. It helped that Paramount gave it a wide release, putting it in nearly as many theaters as summer blockbusters by its fourth weekend. With the memories of its strong returns and its Oscar losses both slightly faded, True Grit comes to DVD and Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy combo pack today, positioned for Father's Day gift-giving.

True Grit (2010) DVD cover art -- click to buy DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.40:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Spanish, Descriptive Video Service)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Closed Captioned; Extras Captioned and Subtitled
Release Date: June 7, 2011
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $29.99
Black Eco-Friendly Keepcase
Also available in Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy ($39.99 SRP)

VIDEO and AUDIO

While I'm sure True Grit looks and sounds fantastic on Blu-ray Disc, we only received the DVD for review and it leaves nothing to be desired. With half of its Oscar nominations deriving from visual and aural aspects, it is no surprise that the movie offers ample sensory stimulation. The 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is flawlessly clean and sharp, making it easy to marvel at period details and Roger Deakins' reliably intriguing cinematography. Meanwhile, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is no slouch, putting and keeping you inside the action, no trivial thing on a film so heavy on atmosphere.

Looking more contemporary out of her pigtails, Hailee Steinfeld discusses auditioning for her breakthrough role and working with the Coens in "Mattie's True Grit." This costume design sketch from "Dressing for the 1880s" sets a model of uncleanliness for Josh Brolin to try to live up to.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

Typical for a Coen Brothers movie, True Grit isn't joined by too many bonus features and none of the audio commentaries and deleted scenes taken for granted on most other major films. The DVD edition contains just four featurettes.

"Mattie's True Grit" (5:10) finds Hailee Steinfeld talking about her character, auditioning for the part (which we get a clip of), the filming experience, her preparation, and her famous directors.

"From Bustles to Buckskin: Dressing for the 1880s" (7:58) obviously tackles the film's costuming. Oscar-nominated costume designer Mary Zophres tackles the project as a whole before detailing lead characters' looks. Her insightful remarks are generously complimented by cast comments, behind-the-scenes footage, film clips, and period photos.

Production designer Jess Gonchor shows us around the old town of Fort Smith, describing what was needed to transform it to a 19th Century look from Granger, Texas. LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) takes aim. You needn't be a sharpshooter to get what you want from the DVD's routine main menu.

"Re-Creating Fort Smith" (11:20) focuses on the art and production design applied to Granger, Texas to set the clocks back to the dramatized period. Production designer Jess Gonchor takes us on a tour, his fellow crew members open up about their research,
and latter stretches deal with the steam train supplied for a scene.

Finally, "The Cast" (5:16) gathers thoughts from the lead actors on their parts and their co-stars. It's less substantial and more promotional, but such a star-driven piece is sure to be noticed and appreciated.

Kept exclusive to the Blu-ray disc of the combo pack are the featurettes "Colts, Winchesters & Remingtons: The Guns of a Post-Civil War Western", "Charles Portis: The Greatest Writer You've Never Heard Of...", "The Cinematography of True Grit", and the film's original theatrical trailer.

The DVD opens with trailers for Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Thor, Super 8, The Fighter, and an anti-smoking spot. The menu's "Previews" listing plays an ad for The Ten Commandments before repeating the trailers.

The menus are pretty routine, with a scored montage of clips bordered to approximate their wide aspect ratio. All other selection screens are silent and static. No slipcover or inserts accompany the black Eco-Box keepcase.

Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) is not happy to see a familiar face in the wilderness. Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) tests her true grit with a tree climb and rope cut to identify a hanged man.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

With ten Best Picture nominees in place, the Coen Brothers seem poised to become Oscar Night fixtures and it's tough to contest that. The siblings are never uninteresting and they bring nothing less to this commercially potent Western than any of their more polarizing and eccentric past flicks. True Grit ranks among last year's best films and one of the Coens' all-time best without wearing its makers' mark on its sleeve.

Paramount's DVD offers a dynamic feature presentation and a sufficient half-hour of featurettes. It's unfortunate that some Blu-ray extras are left off here, but that isn't enough to stop me from recommending seeing this movie either here or via the high-def combo pack.

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Related Reviews:
Written and Directed by Joel & Ethan Coen: No Country for Old Men A Serious Man
New: The Company Men Once Upon a Time in the West (Blu-ray) Passion Play
2010 Best Picture Oscar Nominees:
Winter's Bone The Fighter 127 Hours Black Swan The King's Speech Toy Story 3 The Kids Are All Right



Jeff Bridges: Tron & Tron: Legacy The Men Who Stare at Goats Iron Man Stick It
Matt Damon: Hereafter Invictus John Grisham's The Rainmaker Ocean's Thirteen
Josh Brolin: You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger The Goonies In the Valley of Elah
Westerns: Billy Two Hats Tombstone Stagecoach There Will Be Blood

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Reviewed June 7, 2011.



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