For devoted followers of the Coen brothers, it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that sooner or later they would make a traditional horse opera. The sibling directors have been informing their plots with the conventions of various styles for three decades, functioning like imaginative homages. Most evident are elements of the noir and western, which they meld together with aspects of black comedy and Southern Gothic. For 'True Grit,' the brothers do without the mystery and uncertainty often associated with their films, opting instead for a more straightforward approach in a tale about guileless retribution.
To be sure, the film is really nothing more than a genre exercise — an easy to discard affair that can be quickly forgotten. The brothers don't seem concerned with experimentation or desire to push any boundaries. But what makes 'True Grit' so darn enjoyable and captivating is their steady, confident camerawork, as if doing this simply to prove they can. And they succeed rather triumphantly. With long-time collaborator Roger Deakins doing the photography, the Coens capture the desert plains of Texas and New Mexico with the same kind of sublime, romanticized splendor as John Ford or Howard Hawks. The film is as much about making a good western as it is about resurrecting a classic Hollywood genre.
Equipped with a very unique collection of characters, the narrative moves forward via the dialogue — the carefully crafted, rhythmic conversations which give the film not only some essential local color but also a sense of authenticity. Of course, there are a few gunfights to be had — the final shootout is just about one of the coolest ever filmed — but viewers' attention is purely placed on the characters and their growth. Jeff Bridges is perfect as the drunken but highly experienced Rooster Cogburn, discovering there's still quite a bit of humanity beneath his irascibly cold exterior. Matt Damon is the big-talking, still wet-behind-the-ears LaBoeuf, a Texas Ranger who cares a tad more for reward money than justice.
Although 'True Grit' is headlined by some A-list names — it also features Josh Brolin and Barry Pepper in minor duties as the nasty, no-good varmints — the real star of this wild west show is the incredibly talented Hailee Steinfeld. As the tenacious, quick-mouthed Mattie Ross, Ms. Steinfeld must embody arguably the most important role of all. She's the heart and soul of the entire picture, and she's an absolute marvel to watch, delivering her lines with such bravado and poise that the rest of the male cast struggles just to keep up. Mattie's bull-headed stubbornness may set the adventure in its proper path, but her naïve view of the rugged, lawless west — slinging the word lawyer like it were bullets — and her childlike pursuit for revenge is really the focus of the plot.
Based on the novel of the same name by Charles Portis, 'True Grit' is ultimately a coming-of-age tale which also sees a man redeem himself of his wicked vices. It follows three people with different levels of experience into the wild frontier, and they come out seemingly the better for it. Years of chasing after outlaws have changed Cogburn into a hardened, cynical old drunk, while LaBoeuf remains fresh with a charmingly hopeful determination. But Miss Mattie Ross, with her dewy-eyed persistence, highlights a larger aspect of the narrative. Knowing she lacks certain abilities, she tries to hire the toughest hombre she can find, but when her wills are tested, she discovers she's had true grit all along.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Paramount Home Entertainment brings Joel & Ethan Coen's 'True Grit' to Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack. The Region Free, BD50 disc sits opposite of a DVD-9 which also includes a digital copy of the film and housed in a blue eco-case with an attractive cardboard slipcover. Once in the player, viewers are taken straight to the main menu with full-motion clips and music.
'True Grit' arrives with a spectacular, near-reference 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (2.35:1) that often dazzles and amazes.
With crystal-clear clarity throughout, the transfer displays sharply-defined lines in clothing, hair and surrounding foliage. Visibility and details are outstanding as viewers can make out every imperfection in the wooden buildings of the town and practically count the tiny pebbles scattered all over the desert landscape. Close-ups to medium shots reveal distinct, life-like textures, dirt and blemishes in the faces of actors.
Contrast runs intentionally hot, giving whites a sharp, brilliant glow in nearly every scene. This causes the picture to look a bit blown out and highlights noticeably clip in many sequences, but it surprisingly does little in ruining the movie's enjoyment. Blacks are richly rendered and profound, providing the image with an appreciable three-dimensional depth, and shadow details remain perceptibly clear during poorly-lit sequences. The color palette places more emphasis on natural earth tones and secondary hues, adding to the photography's slightly washed-out appearance. Primaries, however, show impeccable saturation levels that are accurate and vivid with healthy facial complexions.
Overall, 'True Grit' offers a marvelous and stunning high-def presentation on Blu-ray.
The latest drama from the Coen brothers also comes with an excellent DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack that impresses with its unique, evocative design.
Though Jeff Bridges mostly slurs his lines throughout the film, dialogue is very precise and intelligible from beginning to end. The rest of the soundstage is with very warm and welcoming with terrific channel separation, giving the small town and desert wilderness a clear sense of presence and realism. The mid-range is exceptionally crisp and detailed, impressively handling the changes from seemingly endless moments of silence to the sudden bursts of piercing gunshots. Low bass is healthy and effective, providing these brief segments of action with realistic weight and force. Rear activity nicely extends the soundfield with limited ambient effects and is generally reserved for the echoing sounds of gunfire and the musical score.
All in all, it's a first-rate lossless mix for an otherwise subtle and quiet western.
Special features are light but decently entertaining.
Though lacking anything which could be considered innovative or ground-breaking, 'True Grit' is the latest drama from the Coen brothers which surprises by being a straightforward, traditional western. With marvelous performances by its cast, the film is exceptionally well-made and structured, captivating viewers with a tight focus and the incredible talent of Hailee Steinfeld. The movie debuts onto Blu-ray with a stunning, near-reference video transfer and an excellent audio presentation. The bonus collection is rather light, but Paramount makes up the difference with a better assortment of exclusives, making this a strong, recommended package for admirers of the western genre and fans of the movie.