Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Video review: "True Grit"

The Coen brothers' version of "True Grit" goes completely sideways from the 1969 film starring John Wayne. It is not really a remake of that iconic Western, but a new interpretation of the novel by Charles Portis.

Jeff Bridges' Rooster Cogburn is not likely to be confused with Wayne's. Though both played the one-eyed, over-the-hill lawman with a penchant for shooting first and asking questions whenever he felt like it, but the similarities end there.

Bridges' character seems not merely ill-tempered but downright morally indifferent to the violence he perpetrates. The only real difference between his actions and those of the men he hunts down is that he has the protection of the law on his side.

Hailee Steinfeld is a revelation as Mattie Ross, a 14-year-old farm girl who hires Cogburn to capture -- and preferably kill -- the man who murdered her father. Mattie is smart as hell and even more stubborn, and insists on tagging along. Along the trail they throw in with a Texas Ranger (Matt Damon) with similar motives but very divergent sensibilities.

With its deliberately stilted, formal dialogue and black moodiness, the new "True Grit" is an entirely novel take on familiar material.

Video extras are a bit pokey. The DVD version comes with four featurettes about the cast, the costumes, re-creating Fort Smith and the character of Mattie.

Upgrade to the Blu-ray/DVD combo pack, and you get three more featurettes about the weapons of the Western genre, Charles Portis and the film's bleak cinematography. It does at least come with a digital copy of the film.

Movie: 3.5 stars out of four
Extras: 2.5 stars

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