REVIEW: True Grit

5 01 2011

I haven’t seen the 1969 John Wayne “True Grit,” so I can’t really put the Coen Brothers’ “True Grit” into that context or perspective.  What I can do, however, is look at it as just another one of their movies that just happens to be a second film adaptation of Charles Portis’ novel.  As it turns out, the movie fits in perfectly with all the rest of the Coen canon.  After some of their high-brow humor hit a sour note for me, I’m glad to see them return to form in the kind of movie they are best cut out to make.

Everything moviegoers have come to love in the directing duo over the last quarter-century is on full display in “True Grit.”  The nihilism, the bleakness, the dark humor, the biting dialogue, the crazy and three-dimensional characters are all there in full force.  While it may not be the high point for the Coens, the movie is definitely an exclamation point on their careers thus far.

The truest grit of the movie belongs to 14-year-old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), a tenacious Southern girl who can talk fast enough to make your head spin around, drive one heck of a bargain, and make your jaw drop with her rugged tenacity.  She’s looking for a way to avenge her father’s murderer, the lawless drunk Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin).  Mattie looks to a U.S. Marshal that fits a similar description, the unreliable, uncomely Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges).

But she’s also not the only one hunting Chaney; Mattie also has to contend with LaBeouf (Matt Damon), a Texas Ranger with a voice uncannily similar to Matthew McConaughey’s and so dead-set on doing his job that he’s about as big of a joke as Matthew McConaughey.  LaBeouf and Cogburn assume they are a two-man searching party, but Mattie, insistent on seeing justice done herself, tags along much to their chagrin.  The three cross into the Indian Territory, enduring much lifeless terrain on Cheney’s trail.

If you ever needed proof that the Coens had a total mastery of filmmaking, “True Grit” ought to be solid evidence.  The technical aspects of the film are incredible and seamlessly integrated, from the cinematography by Roger Deakins to the beautiful periods sets and costumes to the peculiar but catchy score by Carter Burwell, which integrates beautiful hymns from the time period.  Under their pseudonym Roderick Jaynes, the brothers edited the movie themselves, and they do such a great job that you don’t think much of it.

But, of course, it’s the fantastic acting corps that put on the real show for us.  Jeff Bridges, playing an even more drunk and crazy Jack Sparrow of the old west, is hysterical with every move.  Rooster is rough to watch because of his crude mannerisms and general sliminess, but thanks to Bridges totally inhabiting the character, we enjoy watching every minute of it.  Matt Damon is also great at creating humor by taking his character so seriously, although as a Texan, I didn’t really appreciate the caricature at my state’s expense.

But the real star of the movie and its most commanding presence is the astounding Hailee Steinfeld.  There are very few actors that can spit out period dialogue at lightning speed with confidence, and there are probably even fewer that can do the same with the dialogue of the Coen Brothers.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone do both so well, a feat that would impress me from an Academy Award-winning actress but floors me when I consider that this is a debut performer.  At such a young age, she has a complete and total mastery of her character’s deepest desires and feelings.  What a find for the Coen Brothers.  I think they discovered one of Hollywood’s next big talents that will only floor us more in the coming decades.

“True Grit” is a Coen Brothers movie through and through, although the movie does have a certain mainstream sensibility that feels a little strange coming from the directing team that has brought us such quirky and unconventional movies in the past.  Sure, they were eventually discovered and adored by the masses, but the Coens never seemed to make their movies for those people.  They were always for the people willing to take risks with them and put up with off-color final products that are drastically different than expected.

I don’t know if on-color is a legitimate phrase, but I find it a perfect description of “True Grit.”  (Look at me, I’m like James Lipton making up phrases … what a scrumtrulescent feeling.)  It’s still the Coen Brothers’ movie, just made to be a little more appealing to people outside their typical fan base.  A-



4 responses

7 01 2011
Chris from the Texas summer camp Lonehollow

I loved True Grit. Jeff was channeling his best….. Butch from camp voice. While it doesnt make sense to you, if your brother saw it he’d agree.

9 01 2011

“True Grit” succeeds because of the interplay among its three main characters. It can stand on its own and need not worry about being lost in the shadow of the original.

9 01 2011

I don’t even think I want to see the original after this; if anything, I want to read the book!

16 02 2011

You should see the original. I think the girl is better in the original because she talks SO much faster.

I gave this Coens film 3/5, i was kinda disappointed. it’s just come out in the uk, and i did hear a lot of US hype over it. Damon was good though.

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