Fourteen-year-old Mattie Ross's father has been shot in cold blood by the coward Tom Chaney, and she is determined to bring him to justice. Enlisting the help of a trigger-happy, drunken U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn, 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 catches him and brings him back to Texas for the murder of another man. (from MovieWeb.com)
It's no secret that westerns used to rule the box office decades ago. But in this day in age, it's a rarity to find this genre of film being made anymore. Still, directors Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, who are known for edgy and often dark and violent films (like No Country For Old Men) have decided to take an old 1969 John Wayne film, titled True Grit, and remake it based more on its 1968 novel source material (originally written by Charles Portis). In the process, the film surprisingly draws more on the spiritual tones of Portis' story, telling the tale through the eyes of the church-going, 14-year-old Mattie Ross who seeks justice for the murder of her father. The Coens' take on the story even opens with an excerpt from Proverbs and makes reference to characters' faith in a positive light throughout the film. However, the 2010 version of True Grit also lives up to its name, consisting of a couple intense and gritty violent sequences that really show the roughness of the old west. This isn't a glamorous, big Hollywood depiction of the west, but more of harsh reality instead.
Jeff Bridges steps into a role John Wayne made popular in 1969 as Rooster Cogburn, taking on the daunting task of trying to fill some pretty big shoes. While I haven't seen the original (yet) and have not read the book, Bridges hardly has the status that Wayne had either. But Bridges, who just won an Oscar for his 2009 film Crazy Heart, is convincing as the heavy-drinking, cigarette-rolling gunslinging Marshall who is known for being tough and quick on the draw. Bridges puts on a real thick southern drawl, almost incoherently at times, and is fun to watch during the film. It's a strange mix when the versatile Matt Damon shows up as a confident and proud Texas Ranger who is also tracking the same target and joins Cogburn and their 14-year-old "boss" Mattie who enlists their help to find her father's killer. Newcomer Hailee Steinfeld actually has the film riding heavily on her shoulders as she narrates the story and tells it from her perspective (instead of Cogburn's), as this feisty and brave girl who wants revenge and justice to be done. What unfolds over the course of two hours is a story as laid back as the time period and just as slow. The Coens' don't trade the story for Hollywood spectacle, letting the scenes be fueled by a great script and solid acting. It's risky to give the reigns to someone like Stanfield, but she does a good job and leaves plenty of room for Bridges to give his own spin on Cogburn.
It's refreshing to find a film with as many spiritual overtunes as True Grit in today's film market. Even most of the movie's score was made up of 19th century hymns, giving further importance to the Christian faith. However, it's an odd accent for a film mostly about seeking revenge. And it's this journey that the central trio embark on that becomes the source of some pretty intense material. The language is relatively mild for such a film, but it's Cogburn who utters about five uses of "g*dd*mn" and a couple uses of "S.O.B." Surprisingly, most of the dialog doesn't rely on profane words and is instead rather witty and well-written. But because the Coens' go for realism over a Hollywood sheen, the PG-13 rating is at least well earned, if it isn't certainly pushing the envelope a bit. While we do see the act of three men being hung execution style and then see a dead corpse hanging rather gruesomely in the woods, the worst scene involves the brief glimpse of a man's fingers being lopped off by a knife shortly followed by a man being shot in the head (with blood splattering on the wall behind him). There are additional western gunfight violence scenes, but none nearly as graphic as this one. Most of the shots are brief and not very bloody. Lastly, Cogburn drinks heavily throughout the film and is portrayed mostly as a drunk.
While there's something to be said for storytelling without spectacle or not trading a good story for popcorn entertainment, True Grit does suffer some from the lack of cinematic scale. The scenery is gorgeous, the players are skilled and convincing, but the movie is almost too modest for its own good. The film's soundtrack is pretty but mostly forgettable and the pacing is almost too casual to be engaging for most audiences. I can appreciate the Coens' efforts, but I can't shake the feeling that something seemed to be missing after the film ended.
All in all, True Grit is a decent western with great acting and good storytelling, but its slow pacing seems to hold it back from true greatness. Bridges turns in a solid performance that is likely to get some more Oscar buzz while Damon is great in yet another role that's strikingly different from previous ventures and newcomer Hailee Steinfeld looks to have a bright future ahead of her. True Grit may not be a grand return to the western genre, but it's a valiant effort that is also marred by some over-the-top violence in a really gritty view of the old west.- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 12/21/10)
Seeing True Grit on Blu-ray was only my second viewing of the film, but I found it to be a much more rewarding experience than my first viewing was. Knowing what to expect from it the second time around definitely helped, but utilizing one trick about home movie watching helped considerably. For watching it on my TV with my wife who hadn't seen the film yet, I flipped on the subtitles to hopefully better understand the gruff growls that Jeff Bridges uses to deliver his lines as Rooster Cogburn. The end result was that we both could appreciate the clever dialog more and pick up on some funny lines that I certainly missed when I saw it in the theaters. I have to admit that if you had even the slightest bit of trouble understanding Cogburn, you'd do well to put the subtitles on while watching the movie. The downside, of course, is that not only do you have words popping up constantly on the screen (while the movie looks fantastic in high def), but it requires you to pay a lot of attention to reading and less attention to the movie itself. Regardless, it's an option to consider and, for me at least, it enriched my movie watching experience for True Grit.
Mattie's True Grit (5:13) - The first featurette on the Blu-Ray disc is a short one dedicated to the character of Mattie Ross and actress Hailee Steinfeld who played her. It's mostly an interview with Hailee as she talks about how she prepared for the part, her audition, and what it was like filming the movie. A highlight here is getting to see a portion of her actual audition tape. It was also endearing to hear how thankful Hailee was for the opportunity to make a film like this.
Outfitting The Old West (8:02) - Costume Designer Mary Zophres opens this featurette, talking about how she set out to design the look of the people in True Grit. It's interesting to hear her talk about what people really looked like in 1870 and how she wanted to adapt that while staying as realistic as possible. Bridges then talks about the importance of the wardrobe for a character. Zophres then returns to talk about each major character's outfit, the design and inspiration for certain aspects of them, the practicality of it, and the reasoning for them. It's another great featurette.
Colts, Winchesters & Remingtons (4:41) - Like how the previous segment was dedicated to the costumes, Property Master Keith Walters talks about the guns of the time and the origins of such weapons as well as the importance of each weapon to each character. It's fascinating, too, as he talks about the personalization of some of them (like how Barry Pepper wanted Lucky Ned to have black handles on his guns, so they added in a white four leaf clover to personalize it as Lucky Ned's) and the research that went into making it all authentic.
Re-Creating Fort Smith (11:20) - Executive Producer Robert Graf introduces this one, talking about how they went to Granger, Texas to re-create Fort Smith in the small town there. It goes in-depth into the detail of turning an existing old town into a true-to-life 1870s town as Production Designer Jess Gonchor gives us a tour of the set. Artists and craftsmen should especially enjoy this fascinating featurette. Later in the segment, they talk about the period train that was brought in to the movie to ride through the Fort Smith set as Mattie arrives in town.
The Cast (5:20) is sadly only five minutes long, but it goes a bit more into the casting of the film and the key players in the movie. We get to hear a little bit more from Bridges about his role as well as the rest of the cast, but I would have loved to have heard some more interviews from them about the movie.
Charles Portis - The Greatest Writer You've Never Heard Of... (30:55) - The book True Grit was written by an acclaimed author of his day, Charles Portis, who did his best to stay out of the spotlight. This documentary, which is oddly longer than any particular one about the movie itself, features fans of and experts on Portis and his career as they talk about the author and his entire literary catalog. It's a good documentary if you want to learn more about Portis, but some of the experts they interviewed sound a little more like super fans of the writer than historians.
The Cinematography of True Grit (2:57) - This one opens with a few key frames of exquisitely lit scenes in the film and Matt Damon sharing about the Director of Photography, Roger Deakins. We then hear a bit from Deakins himself and his humble view of his work. The clips shown in this segment really highlight the beauty of Deakins' genius.
The last bonus features are a Theatrical Trailer and a digital copy and DVD of the film (available in the combo pack). Overall, the Blu-Ray disc captures the beauty of this wonderfully shot film, making it the ideal version to take home. At the same time, it's a bit light on the bonus features - especially for such an acclaimed film - but there are enough behind-the-scenes moments included here to build up your appreciation of this film. After watching it on Blu-Ray disc and checking out the bonus content, I certainly have a lot more appreciation for this movie that I didn't have before.- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 6/4/11)
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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