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BY STEVEN D. GREYDANUSRegister Film Critic
True Grit (2010) PICK
Sanctum (2011) PASS
One of the best films of last year is new on home video — along with one of the worst films of this year.
Tied with The King’s Speech for Oscar nominations, True Grit came up empty at awards time — but, for my money, the Coens’ latest is the best film of 2010. It’s also a genuinely religious film: not only a film about religious themes, but one that invites the viewer to contemplate the story’s events in a light of faith.
A new adaptation of the 1968 novel rather than a remake of the 1969 John Wayne film, True Grit relates the quest of 14-year-old Mattie Ross (extraordinary Hailee Steinfeld) to avenge her father’s murder. “You must pay for everything in this life, one way and another,” Mattie tells us in an opening voice-over. “There is nothing free, except the grace of God.”
Certain that Providence is with her, Mattie declares, “The Author of all things watches over me, and I have a good horse.” She also has two men, U.S. Deputy Marshal Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) and Texas Ranger LaBeouf (Matt Damon). In her quest for justice and vengeance, Mattie benefits from the horse and the men, and also, rather pointedly, from the grace of God.
I recommend the two-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo edition, even if a Blu-ray player is still in your future. Blu-ray exclusive extras include featurettes on novelist Charles Portis (“The Greatest Writer You’ve Never Heard Of”), firearms (“Colts, Winchesters & Remingtons: The Guns of a Post-Civil War Western”) and the film’s cinematography. DVD extras include featurettes on the character of Mattie, costuming and the recreation of Fort Smith.
At the other end of the spectrum is Sanctum, a repellent thriller about a crew of spelunkers trapped in an underwater cave. You might be thinking that no matter how lame it is, the underground and underwater photography might be worth it. Yes, some pretty pictures; no, so not worth it.
Produced by James Cameron but directed by first-time director Alister Grierson, Sanctum is not only astonishingly bad and excruciatingly nasty, but offensive to boot — a culture-of-death rationalization checklist that embraces euthanasia, suicide, divorce and parental abandonment. Avoid at all costs.
Bonus Picks: Baseball fans, don’t miss 61*, Billy Crystal’s fond homage to Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle during their 1961 run to break Babe Ruth’s home-run record. Marx Brothers’ fans, look for new DVD editions from Universal of the brothers’ early, anarchic Paramount classics, including The Cocoanuts, Animal Crackers, Monkey Business, Horse Feathers and perhaps their masterpiece, Duck Soup. And while Miramax’s new one-disc “Special Edition” of Baz Luhrman’s satire-romance Strictly Ballroom can’t be that special, the film itself is.
Content advisory: True Grit: Recurring, sometimes bloody Western violence; a few gruesome images; occasional profanity and crass language. Strictly Ballroom: Some rude expressions, mild crude humor, comic drunkenness. All films mentioned should be fine for teens and up.