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A tough U.S. Marshal helps a stubborn young woman track down her father's murderer.
For more about True Grit and the True Grit Blu-ray release, see True Grit Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on May 24, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Starring: Jeff Bridges (I), Hailee Steinfeld, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper, Dakin Matthews
Narrator: J.K. Simmons
Directors: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
» See full cast & crew
True Grit Blu-ray Review
Truly exceptional filmmaking and Blu-ray authoring.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, May 24, 2011
There is nothing free except the grace of God.
How often does a movie of this caliber come along? Rarely for sure. Joel and Ethan Coen's (No Country For Old Men) masterpiece Western True Grit defies all cinematic logic, for not only is this remake superior to the original John Wayne picture of the same name, it also bests the source novel written by Charles Portis, bettering it in pacing and purpose. Indeed, True Grit stands tall as a picture that's both layered and superficially excellent; the story is one of camaraderie, courage, humanity, humility, honesty, and assertiveness, while the film itself is crafted to the highest standards that shame all but the most superior of pictures with its classic no-nonsense profile that places story first but supports it with quintessential filmmaking techniques, namely unflinchingly flawless direction, cinematography, music, and acting. True Grit is indeed a rarity amongst motion pictures, in large part thanks to the culmination that is the perfection of visualized simplicity. Joel and Ethan Coen maintain an even keel throughout, never overemphasizing or downplaying any part of the tale; True Grit holds true in every frame, the picture moving along honestly and without compromise in style, structure, or story, all of which elevate it to heights reserved for the finest motion pictures that certainly defy the modern razzle-dazzle style and support the notion that good old-fashioned storytelling and know-how are in every way superior to noisy and kinetically-inclined, rather than more reflective and thematically-based, cinema.
Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) is a young girl who calls Yell County, Arkansas, home. Her father was recently murdered in Fort Smith, Arkansas, by a cowardly man named Tom Cheney (Josh Brolin, W.), leaving Mattie to travel to Fort Smith to set the wheels of justice in motion. Once she settles her father's affairs and learns that the law is either powerless or unwilling (or both) to capture the fugitive Chaney, she solicits a tough but slovenly one-eyed U.S. Marshall named "Rooster" Cogburn (Jeff Bridges, Tron: Legacy), who is said to be a man of "true grit," to do the job. Rooster is at first reluctant, but the ever-insistent Mattie convinces him to accept the task not through a sob story but with the promise of money. The deal is complicated by the arrival of a Texas Ranger known only as "LaBoeuf" (Matt Damon, Green Zone) who is determined to bring Chaney to justice in The Lone Star State for the murder of a state senator. Mattie will not hear of it; Chaney is to pay for his crimes either in Arkansas or at the barrel of her father's Colt Dragoon revolver. The three nevertheless embark on a journey across difficult terrain to find Chaney, who is suspected of holing up with a gang led by the notorious criminal "Lucky" Ned Pepper (Barry Pepper, Saving Private Ryan).
True Grit truly excels in two areas. First, it's a compelling but harrowing tale of developing admiration set against the backdrop of the search for justice and revenge. Second, it's an extraordinary accomplishment in filmmaking. True Grit defies the shape and style that's come to be associated with the quintessential "Western," but despite the absence of genre cliché -- thanks in large part to the unflappably honest source material -- it may very well be a picture that captures the essence of what the genre is really all about. The story of True Grit is anything but old-west glamorous; it's painstakingly real in that the picture is overwhelmingly neutral in its depiction of humanity. There's an underlying sense of "good" and "evil" to be sure, and even loose alliances and allegiances, but ultimately the story begins as one with each character in search of only his or her own best interests, using the other characters as pawns maneuvered on a figurative chess board, each player with their own goals and motivations in mind, be they justice, revenge, money, or freedom. It's out of that self-centered maneuvering does what passes for "friendship" develop throughout the film, but even "friendship" may be too strong a term. Perhaps it's more of a kind of advanced respect; as the story progresses, so too does each primary character's acceptance of the others as their varied strengths and weakness manifest themselves on the trail of the devious and cowardly criminal Tom Chaney. Whatever it may be, the camaraderie that develops proves to be the strongest weapon on the hunt, greater than the Colt Dragoon or even the mighty Sharp's carbine in bringing Chaney and the unscrupulous gang to which he belongs to justice, whatever that justice may ultimately be.
True Grit's exceptionally engrossing and layered story is only accentuated by the superb, five-star, faultless craftsmanship that elevates the film towards the pinnacle of cinema. High praise indeed, but one need only watch the first moments of True Grit to realize the mastery behind the making of the movie, and to see how Joel and Ethan Coen have progressed even from No Country For Old Men, which until True Grit was not only the best Coen film to date, but itself a faultlessly constructed picture built on perfectly-realized low-key cinematic technique that accentuates story above flash. True Grit at once feels like both an expertly-crafted film -- viewers who appreciate fine cinema will be in awe throughout the picture at just how well constructed a movie this is -- and not like a film at all. Indeed, the Coens manage to completely engross the audience in the story to the point that far more often than not the viewer will feel like an observer on the dirt roads of Fort Smith, a fourth member of the party on horseback traversing through rough and snowy country, or another gunfighter engaged in a distant shootout with hardened criminals. At the same time, though, the craftsmanship is too good too overlook. True Grit offers the perfect combination that is old-fashioned sensible and structured but at the same time modern-slick. It's amazing how every frame captures the essence of the shot, how every shot perfectly accentuates each sequence, how every sequence builds into an unflappable whole. Not only that, but there's an incredible sense of realism that's not only captured just in terms of how well the costumers, set decorators, and the like have done their jobs, but in terms of the sheer clarity and vibrancy of the image, whether sun-bathed daytime exteriors, cold and snowy overcast afternoons, or impenetrably dark nighttime sequences. True Grit's low-key direction -- not to mention Carter Burwell's (The Rookie) sterling score that's sweeping and exciting and combines an old time Western feel with a hint of modernity -- only accentuates the story and all that makes it whole, which includes the stupendous acting throughout.
For all the good, all the superlatives that are justly bestowed upon True Grit, the acting performances never become lost in the shuffle. Indeed, there are five of the best all-around efforts in recent memory in True Grit, four of which are from name actors and the fifth -- the best of the bunch -- by a relatively unknown Hailee Steinfeld who positively dazzles and absolutely nails the character Mattie Ross. It comes through clearly in the film, but those who have read the novel on which the film is based know Mattie to be a mature-for-her-age 14-year-old who's vocabulary is larger and more diverse than anyone else's in the story, but there is one word -- one of the simplest in the English language -- that she has no need for: "no." Steinfeld's performance is captivating, raw, honest, and absolutely true to the source. She's a girl of determination, wiles, and smarts, with the attitude to match. Steinfeld's ability to so perfectly enunciate in such an authoritative manner is uncanny, but it's the way she physically carries the character and emotes just a hint of the internal fear that's evident even through her outward stalwartness that makes this one dazzling performance that's an unflinchingly perfect replica of the character as painted in the book. Steinfeld's matter-of-fact, self-confident performance is the kind of thing thats sure to jumpstart a fresh young career, and it will interesting to see if she can top this effort in the future, given she has the same kind of challenging material with which to work in her future projects.
Jeff Bridges takes on the role made famous by John Wayne and makes it his own; there's not a hint of The Duke in the performance -- Bridges channels a Billy Bob Thornton Sling Blade more than he does a 1969 John Wayne True Grit -- which is critical in separating this movie from the last, given that there are really no other similarities shared between the two save for the basic story outline. Bridges makes for a Rooster Cogburn who is, dare say, more convincing than Wayne's; The Duke never really escaped his larger-than-life persona in his version of the film, despite a wonderful effort to the contrary. Bridges is no low-key actor, but he becomes lost under the heft, eyepatch, scraggly hair, and heavy coat that make the physical representation of Rooster Cogburn, creating the look of an imposing figure yet in some way playing the part as if a gentle giant at the same time. Bridges's performance definitely makes his the definitive screen portrayal of Rooster Cogburn; what a fantastic choice in casting. Equally well-cast is Matt Damon who might seem an oddity to play the somewhat more flashy and cocky Texas Ranger, but Damon's been roughed up a bit for the part and looks and sounds the role to the point that the actor disappears into the character. Lastly, Josh Brolin and Barry Pepper are unflappably excellent as the gritty, unkempt outlaws who lack the screen time of the other three primaries but who certainly carry the same screen presence, playing the parts with a naturally scruffy and hard edge that makes them tough, but still human, villains.
True Grit Blu-ray, Video Quality
True Grit's 1080p Blu-ray transfer is as faultless as the movie. Clarity is striking in every single frame, allowing detail to shine and the image to appear absolutely pristine in every shot. Whether the opening shot of Fort Smith where even the smallest little pebbles of dirt and sand appear textured to the point of real life, the intricate definition as seen on wooden planks and brick façades, faultless facial reproduction, or the texture of Mattie's braided hair, Paramount's Blu-ray is positively film-like and doused in natural beauty in every shot. Colors are well-balanced, even if the image favors something of a warm tone inside and a sun-baked but naturally bright scheme outside. Whether those wam interior shades, the wooden pistol grips and rifle stocks, or the brown leather of saddles and jackets, every color seems true to life. Black levels are pitch-perfect throughout, featuring no sign of crush and never brightening up to betray the naturally dark tint that so finely accentuates every blackened scene. The image enjoys a fine natural depth. Grain is light but present, and the image is squeaky clean, featuring not a trace of print damage or unwanted artifacts. This is a top-of-the-line transfer if ever there was one; it's flawless in every area, but is defined by the sheer clarity of the thing. Paramount may very well be the best in the business when it comes to new release Blu-rays, and True Grit instantly goes to the head of the class.
True Grit Blu-ray, Audio Quality
True Grit's DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless soundtrack is the perfect compliment to the wondrous video presentation. The track is well-balanced and handles everything form the lightest background accentuating sound effect to the heaviest gunshot with equal clarity. The picture features some quality atmospherics that flow from every speaker, surrounds included, to recreate the nighttime ambience of rustling leaves, distant insects, and the popping and crackling of a campfire. Even at a relatively low volume, the track seems so precise that even these most minor of sound effects draw the listener into the experience. Other, slightly more pronounced effects -- such as flowing waters and gusty winds -- permeate the soundstage with pinpoint clarity and a naturalism that's second-to-none. Music enjoys the finest clarity possible; every note is delivered with a faultless and seamless tone that brings every little nuance of Carter Burwell's score to life. Gunfire is sharp and accurate, whether heard up-close or at a distance. Dialogue, too, is balanced and at home in the center speaker, only moving away towards the sides when the on-screen action calls for it to do so, and even then the transition from one speaker to the next is seamless. The is a grand soundtrack that handles every element -- from the slightest nuance to the heaviest gunshot -- with a startling amount of precision, making this a top-tier track even if it's not as loud and always-active as some other equally-dazzling listens out there.
True Grit Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
True Grit doesn't feature the exhaustive assortment of extras fans might have wanted, but this is a solid if not somewhat unspectacular collection that's highlighted by a lengthy and detailed look at the life and writings of novelist Charles Portis.
True Grit Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Wow. True Grit is every bit the superior to the already-excellent 1969 film of the same name, and it's arguably better than the source novel, too. There's little else to say that hasn't been said; this is an achievement of filmmaking the likes of which only come around every so often, and there haven't been too many more complete movies made between this and the Coen Brothers's fantastic Oscar-winning No Country For Old Men. It's safe to label the pair of Joel and Ethan amongst the top five filmmakers working today, if not the absolute best. Their uncanny knack for making not movies, but treasures of cinema -- instant classics -- is almost unmatched. Of course, it only helps when the films are based on novels from such acclaimed writers as Cormac McCarthy and Charles Portis, but that they can translate them so perfectly from word to screen is truly an amazing accomplishment. Everything else about True Grit is fantastic, too; from the set design to the costuming, from the score to the acting, there's not a weak element in the film and this is easily one of the top five pictures of 2010. Paramount's Blu-ray release of True Grit delivers stunning video and audio supported by a balanced assortment of extra content. True Grit is well on its way to earning a spot in the top ten releases of 2011, and it earns my highest recommendation.
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True Grit Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Blu-ray Sales, June 6-12: True Grit Rides to the Top - June 15, 2011
For the week ending June 12, the Coen Brothers remake of True Grit finished on top of the Blu-ray sales chart. True Grit was a box office sensation, produced with a modest $38 million budget, the film finished its domestic theatrical run with a total of $171 million. ...
• This Week on Blu-ray - June 7-13 - June 7, 2011
The Coen Brothers have done it once again – created a theatrical masterpiece that breaks the traditional Hollywood mold – but this time, it was a remake. A John Wayne remake. Yes, in an era when studios shove remake after remake down our throats, it's refreshing ...
• Exclusive Giveaway: True Grit Prize Packages - June 6, 2011
Blu-ray.com and Paramount Home Entertainment are offering three Blu-ray.com members the opportunity to win a "My Dad Has True Grit" Father's Day prize package. Winners will receive a Blu-ray copy of the Coen Brothers' True Grit, as well as a "My Dad Has True Grit" ...
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