As a reference of modern society, the Old West pervades the truer nature of American colonialism in a subsequently rawer form. While the nature of Clint Eastwood’s spaghetti westerns were more in the style of a mercenary texture where life revolves not around the law but at times in notions of vigilante justice, John Wayne’s ideals by comparison rested more in the texture of good ol’ boy Americana. Interestingly enough with the release of the Coen Brothers’ adaptation of the original book of “True Grit”, the comparison to this late 60s movie of the same name invariably comes into play. As the film which won him the Oscar for Best Actor, the key to Wayne here is him letting down his guard a little in front of the more progressive persuasion of Kim Darby as Mattie Ross. The wit of both fairly sharp using the inevitabilities of Wayne’s intention.
The inclusion within the cast of Dennis Hopper as a man who meets his end inside a shack and Robert Duvall as the murderous but intelligent Pepper gives the ideals of the movie credence before its time. Hopper’s “Easy Rider” was only a few months away while Duvall would make his entrance in “The Godfather” a few years later. The transfer on BD shows the inherent blues and barren tundra in the area around Ridgeway, Colorado where the film was shot (even though at first glance in the beginning of the film, certain town scenes can be mistaken for the Warner Ranch in Burbank). The use of day for night in a less-than-stellar fashion is glaringly obvious except for one small scene where Wayne’s Cogburn relates his road to bounty hunter of sorts (albeit one with a badge). The commentary by Western enthusiasts including Jeb & J. Stuart Rosebrook is little more than candy filling addressing the vernacular of the times while the most revealing shooting secrets they relate is that Kim Darby was deathly afraid of horses and was having family trouble so she had a hard time remembering her lines. Granted most of the people involved with the picture are not present in Hollywood anymore but even a perception by Duvall would be undeniably prudent.
Other small featurette extras include some parts of the same whole with “True Writing” talking about the adaptation which was written by Marguerite Roberts who earlier had been targeted by the McCarthy hearings. “Working With The Duke” reflects the more heroic textures of the man when the reality of his work style and intent of his health on this particular picture would have been much more telling. “Aspen Gold: The Locations Of True Grit” revels with character the textures of the land which makes the journey an integral part of the story. “The Law & The Lawless” like the writing segment before reflects the archetypal progression of the tide while still maintaining a certain code shared by these outlaws. “True Grit” is a product of its time but undeniably rooted in classic storytelling with true-to-vernacular dialogue. Out of 5, I give the BD a 2 1/2.
The essence of faith relates in a texture of Old West mysticism with the new film “Book Of Eli”. In creating an apocalyptic “Dead Man” of sorts, the Hughes Brothers have created a unique though imbalanced approach on the essence of the word. The movie begins with a stake based in survival which of course would be the initial thought of any post traumatized world such as this. The key here which is an interesting antecedent is the Word Of God, whoever that may be based within the perception of how it inspires and how it controls.
The two are represented by multi-faceted actors in the forms of Denzel Washington and Gary Oldman. Their requisite intensities stand to structure with of course Washington portraying the quiet stillness of Zen while Oldman has the vengeance of impossible impatience. Granted this works well within a Western motif and, with the enhancement of a washed out look and digital background extensions, makes extensive use of the New Mexico desert which has become a intensive backlot for Hollywood over past couple years.
The journey shown here is bleak and the first minutes of the film are like a cross between “Wall-E” & “The Road Warrior” using very little dialogue. The action is swift to be sure but it is very spaced out in terms of time. The most intensive moments comes later in the movie but the most effective is within a very still scene which recounts the best of John Ford’s westerns. It is within this space when Oldman stands over Denzel with barely a hair between them that have the most power. Oldman can play energy but his strength always comes in the points where he can viscerally focus his intensity in almost whisper type moments.
Denzel’s convictions of faith are very clear, which imbues his character but also allows him to see enlightenment at key moments. Most of the other characters falter around these anti-hero types, specifically Mila Kunis’ character which for all intents and purposes is structure into the story as a plot ploy which essentially needs to be there to move the film into the epilogue and transition of the final act. It is a thankless part and she looks good doing it but in all essence her intent should be to get in the presence of these stellar talents.
In terms of its commerical potential for “Eli”, that remains to be seen. The faith elements are undenibale while the action though good is essentially stylized and inconsistent. The score also needs to mentioned because like Neil Young’s transformative and hallucinogenic parlays in “Dead Man”, composer Atticus Ross’ lingering guitars here with the use of synth feedback create an inherent sonic landscape that solidifies the film.
“Eli” as a whole has the viscosity on an art film but with some A-list pedigree and visual directors. The reality is that the Hughes Brothers’ last film: “From Hell” with Johnny Depp was also another experiment of sorts. The possibilities are exciting in terms of their path but the business aspects always need to be counter-weighed. “Book Of Eli” is interesting is delivery and concept but may not appeal to everyone. Still, it is a journey that stays with you. Out of 5, I give it a 3.