Rooster Cogburn (John Wayne) was such an icon of a character, the later sequel dropped True Grit entirely and just used the name. It’s not just because he’s named “Rooster” either, but because it’s a timeless bit of writing, both in terms of the novel written by Charles Portis and this screen adaptation by Marguerite Roberts.
The imposing one-eyed fat man may be near the top of all Wayne characters (or the top according to Oscar voters), saying something when you consider the wealth of other possibilities. He’s not that instantly likeable hero either, a character that works for the audience’s respect between bouts of heavy drunkenness and acting like he’s in a shooting gallery. He seems hard, proud of his kill count while in the midst of a trial, and cold, showing no remorse for anything he’s done.
It makes True Grit’s other element, a young, spunky girl Mattie Ross (Kim Darby) the perfect accompaniment. As this classic western goes, she’s searching for the murderer of her father, willing to do anything she can to get inside Indian territory to track down the killer. She may very well steal the spotlight at times, conning a stall owner though her own weirdly harsh charm, then having the guts to go back and re-buy the horses she sold for half the price.
True Grit is not the standard shoot-em-up western, although finding a means to discredit as such while Wayne charges towards four men on his horse, multiple guns blazing, is difficult. It’s a film of dialogue, each word carefully plotted and intelligently placed, not to mention the assorted dialect of the era that adds a layer of authenticity. Like most of the great westerns, this is a contained, personal story, focused on the plight of a few, well developed people. It pulls you in with its glorious landscapes and appealing actors.
True Grit doesn’t do much of anything wrong, this aside from a somewhat contrived finale that places Mattie alone with the killer she’s after, then a needless fall into a snake pit. It’s there to make Rooster into a permanent, definite hero. Admirable, but the scenario offers plenty of other opportunities, leaving those short bits tacked on to the end. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Movie]
Paramount is usually impeccable when it comes to their classic catalog, True Grit one of the first to not meet their lofty standards set by African Queen and White Christmas. A barely noticeable layer of film grain sits over this one, the first cause for concern when the faces begin to look waxy and under detailed. A shot of the crowd watching a hanging in the town is the first time the alarm bell sounds, each resident murky, indistinct, and overly digital.
There is undoubtedly a level of visible DNR applied here, although how much is up for questioning. It’s not tragic by any means, but enough to muddy up some of the Colorado photography. Very few close-ups appear natural, those fine details of the period costumes lost, and faces flat. The third act seems to clear itself up a bit, resolving better environments and other objects without too many issues. The grain tends to be more noticeable here too, as if it were left alone.
This is an otherwise pleasing AVC encode, littered with minor damage that is barely noticeable. Whatever restoration was done produced some fine results. Black levels are excellent, nighttime fireside chats preserving a level of shadow detail while losing no depth. They’re natural, a nice deep, rich dimensionality thanks to their consistency.
Colors are vivid, bringing forth some of the mountainside greenery better than any previous format. Flesh tones are appropriately heated to match the outdoors nature of this period piece. Primaries are striking, and the brightness of the fake blood stands out more so than ever. Panoramic views of the countryside carry a brilliant blue sky where applicable, and deep grays of the mountainous backdrop. It’s all enough to get by and work around the otherwise digital nature. [xrr rating=3/5 label=Video]
There are two audio mixes here, an uncompressed DTS-HD 5.1 effort and compressed mono. The mono offers clarity, but lacks the power of the 5.1 affair. The up-to-date mix does little to tinker with the source. Gunfire doesn’t suddenly falsely surround the viewer, but instead gives life to the score. That great opening theme is given a new lease, bleeding slightly into the surrounds while carrying its excellent fidelity through the fronts.
The rest of the music is like that too, Elmer Bernstein’s wondrous score carrying great clarity, if not reaching the peaks without fading slightly after 40 years. There is no discernible hiss or other imperfection to note.
Dialogue is stuck with what was recorded, and that includes interiors with heavy echos. It sounds flat and faded, at times the blatant ADR sticking out more so than before. Despite a level of scratchiness, it’s cleaner than in the mono track, carrying better overall fidelity, much like the score. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Audio]
A commentary has Joe and J. Stuart Rosebrook joined by Bob Boze, all film historians. True Writing is a short piece on the the novel and film from a perspective of the book/script. Working With the Duke is not so subtly about Wayne and this role. Aspen Gold is about the location and how excited residents were during the shoot. The Law and the Lawless looks back on the West and the people who remain legendary from the era. [xrr rating=3/5 label=Extras]