Judge Ryan Keefer loved wearing an eye patch and drinking excessively, but the fun was over when his wife said he couldn't do either of those things when it came to bedtime.
"They say he has grit. I wanted a man with grit."
The review for this film is being written just after the 100th anniversary of the birth of John Wayne, one of the true greats of American film. Paramount released many Wayne classics last year, and in the run-up to a centennial's worth of Duke work and legacy, they have released more of Wayne's film's, including a new release of True Grit, the only film Wayne won an Oscar for. So is it worth the double dip?
Facts of the Case
Adapted from Charles Portis' novel by Marguerite Roberts (5 Card Stud) and directed by Henry Hathaway (The Sons of Katie Elder), the story starts with Frank Ross, who rides into town with a man named Tom Cheney, who turns on him and murders him. Ross' daughter Mattie (Kim Darby, Teen Wolf Too) goes into town to find someone that will help find Cheney and bring him to justice. Enter Wayne, who plays Rooster Cogburn, a deputy marshal whose means of capturing outlaws might be a little bit unorthodox, but he gets things done, even for the occasional buck or two. Mattie hires Rooster to find Cheney, who is running with a criminal named Ned Pepper (Robert Duvall, Thank You for Smoking). Along with a Texas Ranger named La Boeuf (Glen Campbell, Any Which Way You Can), the trio try to find Cheney and Pepper in the midst of Indian country.
It's kind of weird, liberals and conservatives don't agree on much, but one thing that both sides appear to agree on is that Wayne's Academy Award for Best Actor is more for his cumulative work than for this particular film. One side looks at Wayne, up against the likes of Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman (Midnight Cowboy), not to mention Richard Burton (Anne of the Thousand Days) and Peter O'Toole (Goodbye, Mr. Chips), and concludes there was no way he should have won the award. There is another side of things, one who thinks that Wayne's Best Actor Oscar was long overdue. Quite frankly, with performances in films like The Quiet Man and The Searchers, for starters, he should have collected statuettes a long time ago. The story that transpires in True Grit is hardly unrecognizable, it had been done many times before, and Wayne portrays more of an Ethan Edwards caricature as Rooster than anything groundbreaking. Besides, when it came to portraying a self-deprecating version of his cowboy icon, he'd already done it fairly recently and with a bit more humor and creativity in McLintock!. As for the supporting performances, I wasn't really wowed there either. Aside from a "Holy Crap!" moment in seeing the Mom from Better off Dead in a role where she's so young, and spotting Duvall and Dennis Hopper (Blue Velvet) in supporting performances, there's nothing too much to write home about. Even the score and title song created by Elmer Bernstein seemed more reminiscent of The Magnificent Seven rather than anything really memorable.
Apparently a new transfer that was struck for this new release of True Grit, and not being too familiar with the source material, this 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer looks more soft than anything else. The picture just doesn't stand out too much and there's not a lot of depth to it. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track is that much more of a waste, but at least the old mono track is here to support it. The previous version of the film on DVD had nothing on it in the way of extras save for a trailer, but Paramount has come back with a decent edition worth owning. First off is a commentary track with a trio of Western film experts in historians Jeb and J. Stuart Rosebrook, along with Bob Bell (Editor of "True West" Magazine). The trio does a commendable job of putting some of the idiosyncrasies into the context of the Western genre and any historical accuracies or authenticities that it observes. They slip into gaps of silence every so often, but they get better as events transpire in the film and it proves to be a good complement to the film. What follows is a group of several featurettes, the first being "True Writing," which runs about five minutes long and covers the Portis novel and everyone's opinions of and recollections from it, along with some background information on Roberts' adaptation of the book. "Working with the Duke" is just that, with interview footage from the surviving cast members as they remember what it was like to work with Wayne. "Aspen Gold" is a retrospective on the Colorado locations that were used in shooting the film, and "The Law and the Lawless" discusses the allure of criminals and sheriffs in the era. The film's trailer and several previews wrap up the disc.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
>From a western point of view, it was heartening to see Lucien Ballard helming the cinematography. Ballard, known for his work in Sam Peckinpah westerns like Ride the High Country and The Wild Bunch, pulls in some of the grand imagery that makes one presume that Peckinpah directed it. You can even see one of the Peckinpah stock actors as Strother Martin (The Wild Bunch) appears as a businessman in town. It's one of the few saving graces in this film for me.
For those who enjoy the film, there are enough supplements (along with the new transfer) that make it worthy of double-dipping the film. Taking Wayne's career in context, it's hardly his best film, and not even his best Western, and quite frankly Paramount did better with the Wayne films they released in 2006 (with High and the Mighty and Island in the Sky, for instance) than what they did with this. While it's nice to see True Grit get the treatment that it's warranted, it feels a little bit rushed to DVD.
Paramount is found guilty but is sentenced to community service based on their prior record, and the Academy is found guilty of rewarding an American legend too late in his career. Court is adjourned.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary by Jeb Rosebrook, Bob Baze Bell and J. Stuart Rosebrook
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