June 9, 2011

The Coen brothers' highest-grosser to date almost hits the Blu-ray bull’s-eye
Movie Rating: 7/10 BD Rating: 8/10

Henry Hathaway’s 1969 film adaptation of Charles Portis’ great American novel, “True Grit,” arrived at a transitional period for both Hollywood and American culture. That same year, Dennis Hoppers’ groundbreaking Easy Rider appeared in cinemas, and its success influenced an exciting shift from the classically structured films that came before it to something decidedly more radical. (Incidentally, Hopper shows up for a brief cameo in Hathaway’s film.) 

Cut to four decades later, Joel and Ethan Coen’s True Grit (Paramount) stays true to the nature of its predecessor, but stays even truer to Portis’ tone – namely during the final moments that are far less peachy.  While this literary adaptation may not be as riveting as 2007’s No Country for Old Men, it’s rife with the brothers’ typically wonderful accouterments, merged with Portis’ highly amusing prose.

More noteworthy is the casting of “The Dude” in place of “The Duke” to play the cantankerous Rooster Cogburn. The 1969 version earned John Wayne his only Oscar, but Jeff Bridges does a nice job at crafting his own mumbled interpretation. Credit for poise and originality also goes out to the entire cast, with Hailee Steinfeld leading the pack as Maddie, a young girl obsessed with tracking down her pa’s killer, portrayed by a terrifyingly savage Josh Brolin. Filling out the lesser roles are Matt Damon as a Texas Ranger who assists Maddie and Rooster, and Barry Pepper as gang leader Lucky Ned Pepper.

Roger Deakins’ dependably lush cinematography looks extraordinary on this Blu-ray, which sports one of the purdiest transfers the format has ever seen. Audio is also top-notch, though for kicks you might want to turn on the subtitles to catch some of Rooster’s less coherent dialogue.

Extras are somewhat slight – we get brief featurettes on the art direction, cast and cinematography – but there is one standout: a 30-minute biographical doc on Portis’ career. Sadly, the Coens are nowhere to be found on this disc. It’s a known fact that they rarely participate on their DVDs, but had they been involved here, True Grit would’ve easily been one of the year’s best Blu-ray titles.