He needs to have true grit; she needs to have a headstrong spunk. They’re a perfect match.
First novelized, then filmed, and now filmed again, True Grit isn’t going anywhere, and why should it as long as the actors are around to keep these roles convincing? Big shoes to fill all around, the type of man that can fill in for John Wayne needs dominance, power, and a presence. Cue Jeff Bridges. Smaller shoes to fill in for Kim Darby, yet a deeper, richer role in Mattie Ross. Cue Hailee Steinfeld.
Smaller shoes physically as they may be, Mattie has her own toughness, a surge of adrenaline to take down the purveyor of her father’s death. She has no fear, that mostly generated because she has no experience. Heading into town without her mother or any family, she sleeps in a mortuary with the men she has just seen hanged, all to follow the one man she believes will find the killer of her parent.
Scholars will debate which actress is the better of the two, although looking forward, it’s hard to see anyone arguing over which is written better. This 2010 remake brought up a wider, bolder, and richer Mattie, one that brings her growing breadth of experience with her through dialogue. Her sharp wit grows somber and her simple ways of talking through a deal suddenly collapse around her in the face of endless death.
Although John Wayne would give Rooster Cogburn the infamy and memorable qualities, this is Mattie’s story. Both follow an arc though, Bridge’s Cogburn just as hard drinkin’, heavy smokin’, and as vile as his predecessor. He has no qualms about killing, cold blood not a factor, and enjoys standing in a trial room bickering with lawyers over what he sees as circumstantial evidence. He was in danger, he pulled the trigger. Not much left to say.
As with the original, both of these key characters have their establishing scenes, Cogburn that trial, Mattie her dealings with a horse trader. Crucial scenes, deftly handled through staggering cinematography that is only defeated in sheer beauty by the Texas countryside to come.
It’s not just years of improved filmmaking techniques, shared experience, or focused budgets. True Grit is an exemplary showcase of skill with a lens, natural environments through careful scouting, and definite care for this material. This is a beautiful film even when the characters choose to be grotesque, aided by the lyrically flawless score by Carter Burwell. The Coen Brothers take nothing they do lightly, and the results speak for themselves every time.
True Grit is a film that practically requires the definition afforded by Blu-ray (and beyond really), and that’s speaking for the 1969 original as well as this modern remake. Paramount’s completely transparent AVC encode lies at the heart of this near-perfection, resolving a limited, clean, textural grain structure. It has a lot to handle too, elegant panoramas of the central Texas plains producing rows upon rows of delicately defined shrubs or tall grass. Tree-laden areas produce an equal level of substantial fine detail.
Thick wool is the dominate dress of the day, especially since the film is dealing with a harsh winter landscape. All of that texture is astutely presented, even the hats. Facial detail is stern and crisp without appearing unnatural. Bridges’ scraggly beard is distinguished down to the last hair. Sweaty brows in pressure situations produce equal results, the clarity here something that becomes a marvel as times moves on and the film relies on those exquisite close-ups.
True Grit is a dusty, dirty film, living up to a title that probably defines its look before it even starts. In this era of digital intermediates, the film can look instantly more “western,” or at least as how we believe it to be so. The film is then drenched in earth-based tones, pleasing oranges and browns in more open daylight, rich cool blues as the snow kicks up, and some intense blues as night begins to fall. Flesh tones, while giving what they have to lighting structure, are kept natural to match the believable palette under a more typical lighting scheme.
Black levels remain focused and absolute, giving the images their depth and a kick they so rightfully deserve. They never come across as underwhelming or overly bright, that latter aspect left to the brilliant contrast. True Grit never stops pleasing visually, a testament to both Roger Deakins work within the realm of cinematography, and this transfer to home digital.
The audio feast is much the same in terms of perfection, given a natural air to soak in. At the height of it all is the gunfire, not necessarily packing a punch in terms of the low-end. It doesn’t need to as there’s this precision balance on display with the crispness of each shot fired. Trigger pulls ring out in a sweeping motion, something not forgotten whether there is one gun firing or six. Most of it happens outdoors, away from the confines of a city, so the echoes are vibrant and full of vigor. A couple of late rounds are fired off in a cave, the echo swarming the soundfield with an aggressive push that can’t be considered anything less than totally assuring.
Horses hit their hooves on the ground with force, just shy of what’s pushed out from the guns, and travel through the appropriate channel when required. This is not a DTS-HD mix afraid of using those fronts for all their worth, bringing the soundfield to life after stretches of center channel/dialogue driven exposition. Earlier, the town is alive with activity, the populace traveling in their carriages spread about, while the prolific score either rings true with subtle piano themes or more fully orchestrated richness.
Mattie’s True Grit marks the first in a series of various length featurettes, this one detailing Hailee Steinfeld’s casting and the role itself. From Bustles to Bearskins interviews costume designer Mary Zophres on her work. Colts, Winchhesters, and Remingtons is all about the guns, and Re-creating Forth Smith is about set design. The Cast is a no-brainer, Greatest Author You’ve Never Heard Of is about novel writer Charles Portis, and The Cinematography is also pretty self-explanatory.
In all, this about an hours worth of content not including the trailer that resides here as well, and nearly all of it is worth watching. It’s informative, not just self-congratulation.