Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Review: True Grit

Non Spoiler Review:
The Coen brothers tackle the Charles Portis novel best known as the inspiration for the John Wayne movie from 1969. But this is not a remake of that film. Instead, they've created a Western masterpiece that really captures the look and feel of the Old West, unlike the more light-hearted version it will be compared to.

Fourteen year-old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) suffers the loss of her father at the hands of hired hand Tom Chaney (Coen brothers' new fave Josh Brolin), and embarks on a journey to bring him to justice. She needs a bounty hunter with some true grit, and enlists Marshall Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to bring him in, a rough-around-the-edges one-eyed drunk who has killed his share of men rather than bring them to trial. They set off into the Cherokee Nation, crossing paths with pretty boy Texas ranger, Le Boeuf (Matt Damon), who is tracking Chaney for a different crime. 

The performances across the board are stellar. While Jeff Bridges is his usual brilliance, and Matt Damon excels as the self-important Texan, it's Steinfeld's obsessed and verbose Mattie that absolutely steals the film. The dialogue is perfection and listening to the garrulous banter of the three title characters makes the movie in itself. In a Coen Western even the most uneducated ne'er-do-wells can bring to life an eloquent turn of phrase that seems like Shakespeare.

This is a much more serious film than its predecessor, but the violence is carefully measured and served up for effectiveness rather than being used gratuitously. There are lighter moments, arising from the witty exchanges or the odd situations that present themselves, but the movie remains grounded in the hard reality of life. 

True Grit is filled with an assortment of Coen brothers staples—eccentric characters and mishaps, and vast dreamlike and unforgiving landscapes (bringing to mind No Country for Old Men). Like other modern Westerns (Unforgiven) it's created a gritty and realistic world free of Hollywood polish. Though laugh out loud funny throughout, it never enters the more humorous territory of some of the Coens' other films. The threats remain real and the sudden death of the moment can rear itself even as the laughs are fading.

In less capable hands, the Cogburn/Mattie relationship could have descended into saccharine father/daughter conceits, but the Coens keep it grounded in the time and place without indulging in this temptation. The Coens also avoided their nasty habit of not ending their movies, and the denouement of True Grit is a fitting but bittersweet resolution.

My only minor critique was Josh Brolin's character, which seemed to lack some explanation given both Mattie and LeBoeuf had differing perspectives on him. We never really got much insight with his brief screentime.

This was a gripping film that flew by and left me wanting more (I was so engrossed in the final act I'd even forgotten Mattie was narrating the movie at the beginning). I'll certainly check it out again, if only to listen to the dialogue.

1 comment:

  1. Looking forward to seeing as I love the origional.


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