Most of the time I detest remakes; however, True Grit proves they don’t have to be bad. The Coen Brothers’ interpretation of the 1968 Charles Portis novel is superior in almost every way to the 1969 Henry Hathaway version. While no actor could ever hope to eclipse John Wayne’s performance as Marshall Rooster Cogburn (the role for which he won his only Oscar), Jeff Bridges manages to make the part his own, rather than trying to imitate Wayne. The Coen’s meanwhile, have stayed true to the novel, but given the film a decidedly Coen-esque feel.

True Grit (2010)Young Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) calls Yell County, Arkansas, home. Her father was murdered by outlaw Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), and she is determined to bring him to justice by hiring notorious one-eyed federal Marshall Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn (Jeff Bridges). Rooster is initially reluctant, but the ever-insistent Mattie convinces him to accept the task with the offer of money. Things are complicated by the arrival of a Texas Ranger known only as “LaBoeuf” (Matt Damon), who is determined to bring Chaney to justice in The Lone Star State for the murder of a state senator. Mattie is unmoved; as far as she’s concerned, Chaney will pay for his crimes in Arkansas, or at the wrong end of her father’s Colt Dragoon revolver.

As one might expect, Mattie and Cogburn develop a bond of sorts. Cogburn comes to admire Mattie’s bluntness, and ability to stand firm when things get tough. Mattie soon sees beneath the scruff and whiskey. She learns that Cogburn can be heroic when the circumstances warrant.

When comparing this to the 1969 version, the Coen’s have delivered a film that’s darker and more sardonic in tone. Most of the story differences are small (the ending being a major exception), but an attempt is made to stick closer to Mattie’s point-of-view (something difficult in the original due to the participation of a star of Wayne’s magnitude). The pacing is tightened. And as one might expect, the violence is more graphic, though the filmmakers toned it down enough to achieve a PG-13 rating. It wouldn’t have taken much more to tip this to an R.

The Coen’s detailed recreation of Fort Smith, Arkansas makes the whole film come alive. It’s a bustling place, evolving from the ramshackle locale popularized in many Westerns into a more modern, civilized place. However, as a triple hanging early in the movie indicates, justice is still brutal, and men like Cogburn are needed to keep peace in a land that hasn’t quite been tamed.

The performances here are all good. As a matter of fact, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, and relative newcomer Hailee Steinfeld easily outshine the work of their predecessors. Jeff Bridges, taking on a role made iconic by John Wayne, makes the character his own, adding some new mannerisms and idiosyncrasies.

True Grit comes to Blu-ray in the film’s original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The color palette’s many browns look beautiful. The blacks are deep, the whites are glossy, skin tones are realistic, and the other hues are deep and rich. Definition and detailing are consistently sharp.

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is full and enveloping, from Carter Burwell’s period-perfect musical score to the noises of nature creeping in from behind. Voices show a clear, refined resonance, but the gunshots steal the show, sharp blasts with boom, frequently flaunt directionality across the home theater space.

We get the following special features:

  • Mattie’s True Grit (1080p, 5:13): Actress Hailee Steinfeld discusses how she landed the role, her enthusiasm for the part, learning to shoot guns and ride horses, working with Joel and Ethan Coen, and the process of shooting the picture.
  • From Bustles to Buckskin — Dressing for the 1880s (1080p, 8:02): Costume Designer Mary Zophres introduces viewers to the process of creating the film’s period-appropriate costumes, while the actors discuss the importance of costumes to help them create authentic performances.
  • Colts, Winchesters & Remingtons: The Guns of a Post-Civil War Western (1080p, 4:41): Property Master Keith Walters discusses returning to the novel to guarantee authenticity while speaking on the various weapons seen in the film and the usage of firearm replicas so that they look fresh and new rather than weathered and worn after more than 100 years in service.
  • Re-Creating Fort Smith (1080p, 11:20): A detailed look at building an authentic Old West town in modern-day Granger, Texas.
  • The Cast (1080p, 5:25): An all-too-brief glimpse at the cast, the characters they play, and the wonderful performances of the group.
  • Charles Portis — The Greatest Writer You’ve Never Heard Of… (1080p, 30:55): A wide range of interviewees speak on the life, times, and writings of Charles Portis, author of “True Grit.” The piece also compares and contrasts the original 1969 film with the novel.
  • True Grit Theatrical Trailer (1080p, 2:33).
  • DVD/Digital Copy Hybrid Disc