Blu-ray widescreen, DVD widescreen and digital copy, 2010, PG-13 for some intense sequences of western violence including disturbing images
Best extra: A 30-minute high-definition documentary on the life and career of novelist Charles Portis, “The Greatest Writer You’ve Never heard Of,” with interviews from songwriter and fan Dwight Yoakam, writer/director and friend Nora Ephorn (“Julie & Julia” and “Sleepless in Seattle”), writers and editors
WITH ONLY A handful of novels to his credit and a career spanning nearly 40-years, reclusive author Charles Portis is considered a writer’s writer. In fact, author/editor Ed Park calls “True Grit” “the great American novel,” during the film’s documentary.
Yes, this is a re-make of the 1969 film that gave John Wayne his only Academy Award. However, this production comes from Joel and Ethan Coen, writer/directors who are as “gritty” as they come. Their Best Picture Oscar nominee owes its success to sticking to Portis’ book, which chronicles 14-year-old tomboy Mattie Ross’ journey for justice. Mattie leaves her families’ 480 acre farm in Yell County, Ark., to find Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), the man who killed her father. Chaney has fled into Indian Country, stealing her father’s horse, $150 in cash and two gold pieces. The girl recruits Marshal Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), “a-one-eyed fat man” with “true grit” to hunt him down. Joining them is Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), whose Sharps Carbine rifle comes in handy.
Young newcomer Hailee Steinfeld takes on Mattie’s role, bringing the character to life and earning a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination. Bridges admits he was concerned for his co-star, since it was her first movie. But, he says in a HD featurette with cast interviews, “After the first day, I knew we lucked out with her. She’s wonderful.”
Damon was just as pleased. “She’s kind of a special case,” he says. “This role found her at a perfect moment.”
“True Grit” exemplifies the grandeur of the Old West and the Blu-ray format with reference level video, surpassing the multiplex experience. Filmed in Texas and New Mexico, Roger Deakins’ Oscar nominated photography, with its whitewashed skies and unending landscapes, looks magnificent, especially if you have a massive screen. The Coens and Deakins have collaborated more than a half-dozen times, with Deakins also receiving Oscar nods for “No Country for Old Men,” “The Man Who Wasn’t There,” “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” and “Fargo.” The uncompressed sound is just as effective, especially during the blazing gunfights, and in the uncomplicated score, sprinkled with traditional hymns. The Coens’ adaptation keeps much of Portis’ 19th century diction and language intact, and it comes through beautifully.
The disc includes five HD featurettes highlighting costumes, weapons, photography, and the transformation of an old Texas rail town into 1870s Fort Smith. There’s also a glimpse of Steinfeld’s audition. She explains how her mother rounded up thrift shop clothes and sewed a burlap skirt the night before to help her achieve Mattie’s look for the screen test.
Don’t miss this extraordinary piece of American literature, now made into an unforgettable movie.
— Bill Kelley III