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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: True Grit

June 6th, 2011

True Grit - Buy from Amazon: DVD, Blu-ray

When it was learned that True Grit, the film that earned John Wayne his only Oscar, was going to be remade, a lot of people were upset. I read the term, "sacrilege", more than once in connection to the remake. However, buzz began to grow for True Grit and in the end it became the Coen Brothers' biggest hit. But how well does it compare to the original?

The Movie

The film starts with a prologue in which Mattie Ross describes the murder of her father by a man called Tom Cheney. When she comes into town to settle her father's affairs, she also goes looking for someone she can hire to hunt down Tom Cheney and bring him to justice. She decides to hire Rooster Cogburn, who was described as the meanest marshal around. She is also approached by La Boeuf, a Texas Ranger who wants to take Tom Cheney back to Texas, where he is accused of killing a State Senator. Mattie refuses his offer to come along, as she wants him to hang for killing her father, not for any other offense. And Mattie is a young lady who is used to getting exactly what she wants. She is not a spoiled brat, but much more mature than most 14-year olds and can usually talk her way around adults.

The next day, when Mattie and Cogburn are supposed to go off and find Tom Cheney, she discovers he left early with La Boeuf and had no intention of taking her along. However, as we've already seen, she doesn't take no for an answer. From then on, the three of them ride looking for Tom Cheney, who they believe is riding with "Lucky" Ned Pepper and his gang. Although personality conflicts within the group might be the biggest obstacle in their way.

That's not much of a plot, but that's as far as I'm willing to go, as from now on we've entered unacceptable spoiler territory. And really, the film doesn't have much of a plot. It's a simple story of revenge, and the extent to which a young lady is willing to go to get it. What makes the film stand out, for the most part, is the acting. (I say for the most part, because it is also well shot with what I consider Oscar-caliber cinematography, despite the result on Oscar night.) Hailee Steinfeld amazingly held her own against two actors with a combined eight Oscar nominations (nine if you count Matt Damon's win for writing) and showed she earned the role. (Although I do think it is a little too soon to tell if she will be the next big thing, as one performance is not enough. It would be prudent to wait till the upcoming Romeo and Juliet release to make that claim.) Jeff Bridges gave another award-worthy performance, as did Matt Damon, even if he was shut out of the major nominations.

It was also an amazingly beautiful film to look at and the direction, cinematography, set design, etc. all deserved their Oscar nominations. In fact, I'm still a surprised it went home empty handed on Oscar night.

The Extras

The only area of the film that isn't fantastic is the extras. There's no audio commentary track, for instance. There are several featurettes, including one on Hailee Steinfeld and how she got her part in the movie, working with the Coen Brothers, the preparations she had to do to play the part, etc. From Bustles to Buckskin is an eight-minute featurette on the wardrobe from the film. Re-Creating Fort Smith is an eleven-minute featurette on the production design of Fort Smith. The Cast is a five-minute interview featurette with the cast. Roughly 30 minutes of featurettes is not a lot of extras, especially for a film that did this well at the box office.

That's it for the extras on the DVD, while the Blu-ray has three additional featurettes, starting with a five-minute featurette on the weapons in the movie. There is a three-minute featurette on the cinematography. And finally there is a 31-minute featurette on Charles Portis, the author of the original book the film is based on. In total, there are more than an hour of featurettes on the Blu-ray, which is acceptable, but not overwhelming.

As for the film's technical presentation, it would not be overstating things to call this Blu-ray reference material. The level of detail here is simply unbelievable. You could sit back and count the hairs on each horse. The colors don't exactly pop, but that's more for artistic reasons, as the color pallet is limited to more earthy tones, for obvious reasons. Black are incredibly deep, without swallowing up details, which is important as a lot of the film takes place at night under starlight. And it goes without saying that there are no flaws to be seen. The audio is also superb with clear dialogue, and given the quality of the dialogue, you don't want to miss a word. The 5.1 track uses all of the speakers effectively with plenty of ambience coming from the side and rear speakers, as well as directional effects. The bass isn't overused, but when it is needed, it delivers.

Finally we get to the price. The Blu-ray costs less than 20% more than the DVD, which would be a bargain under most circumstances. Add in the exclusive extras, the amazing technical presentation, and the DVD / Digital Copy that comes with the Blu-ray, and there's absolutely no reason to not get the Combo Pack.

The Verdict

Despite the misgivings of some John Wayne fans, the Coen Brothers' version of True Grit is even better than the original. It is absolutely a contender for Pick of the Week while the Blu-ray is the better deal over the DVD by a considerable margin.

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