Home Video Review: “True Grit”

For some, the idea of watching the Coen Brother's "True Grit" on anything less than a 20-foot screen is blasphemous. There's no way those gorgeous and lovingly-crafted shots of America's great wide open could play at home. Well, we're here to say that…that's true. They don't play as well, even with crystal clear Blu-ray crispness doing everything it possible can. But the home-viewing experience does force you to focus on the quieter, less obviously eye-catching parts of "Grit," and that's where the movie's true beauty lies.

"True Grit," of course, is writers/directors Joel and Ethan Coen's adaptation of the 1968 Charles Portis novel. It tells the story of a young girl named Mattie Ross who hires a burnt-out U.S. Marshall named Rooster Cogburn and a loquacious Texas Ranger named LaBoeuf to help her hunt down and kill a man named Tom Chaney, who murdered her father in cold blood. The novel was originally adapted in 1969, with John Wayne in the Cogburn role.

Obviously, the stance "True Grit is a really good movie" is hardly a controversial one, but explaining why has always been a little tougher. The performances, across the board, are great, but not in a way that makes for easy Oscar clip editing (which might explain why "True Grit" was shut-out). Newcomer Hailee Steinfeld gets the most grandiose speeches, but it's the way she visibly steels herself when faced with opposition - her clenched jaw should have gotten a Supporting Actor nod of its own - that completely sells the idea of a 14 year-old girl being one of the toughest hombres in the Old West. By the same token, how do you easily sell Jeff Bridges' take on drunken manhunter Cogburn? The way he lets words kind of spill out of his mouth like half-chewed food…until, that is, he means business. Then his drunk bear growl suddenly snaps into action hero focus. And the Coens being the Coens, they couldn't help but let Matt Damon essentially play LaBoeuf as a Matthew McConaughey impression - but Damon salvages what could have been a complete joke by making every verbal slight LaBoeuf receives from both Cogburn and Ross sting him like a slap in the face.

The other element that seemed to get downplayed in the Oscar push is just how funny "True Grit" is - but, again, funny in a way that isn't quotable (there's no "the Dude abides" or "gimme that baby, you warthog from hell" to be found here) but totally deadpan and all in the details. It's Damon playing LaBoeuf with a speech impediment for half the movie. It's Cogburn casually booting a small Native boy off his porch for abusing a donkey. It's Josh Brolin's murderous idiot Chaney begging his buddies not to leave him behind. "True Grit" is a movie of tiny details and small moments masquerading as a big screen epic - but never once do the Coens make fun of the western genre. This is an honest-to-god western through and through. The easiest comparison we can make is "Shaun of the Dead" - it's a zombie movie that happens to be funny, it is not a zombie movie spoof. Nailing that distinction is tough, but essential.

Naturally, given the gorgeous cinematography on display, Blu-ray is recommended if you have the capabilities. The movie's shift from dark candle-lit interiors to broad, sunny outdoors begs for digital clarity. Although "True Grit" continues the Coen tradition of not exactly exerting themselves when it comes to bonus material (two of the better featurettes focus on Steinfeld and the movie's set design, but neither are anything more than typical EPK clips), they do offer a tribute to Portis that is highly recommended.

But perhaps the best thing we can say about "True Grit" is this - we'll almost certainly be watching it again. We're not sure we can say that about "King's Speech."

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