True Grit

6 Jan

Title: True Grit
Joel & Ethan Coen
Joel & Ethan Coen, based on the novel by Charles Portis
Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Hailee Steinfeld, Barry Pepper
MPAA Rating:
PG-13, some intense sequences of western violence including disturbing images
110 min
Major Awards:
IMDb Rating:
Rotten Tomatoes:

True Grit is the sort of film I had seriously huge expectations for. It was the remake of a classic western that got John Wayne his Oscar. And it was being spear-headed by the Coen brothers, who have one of the best track records of any working directors today. And it had a cast that included Jeff Bridges, just off his Oscar-winning turn in Crazy Heart in the iconic role Mr. Wayne created, plus Matt Damon and Josh Brolin, and Hailee Steinfeld, a young actress who was only thirteen when she shot this, and who is being mentioned in the thick of the Best Supporting Actress race. Not to mention that the posters and the trailers looked all kinds of awesome. And now that I’ve actually seen True Grit, I can honestly tell you that it didn’t disappoint one bit, no matter how huge the expectations were.

Seriously, True Grit is just one seriously good film, one that has in Mr. Bridges a season professional tackling an iconic role and making it fully his own, giving a performance that may just get him another Oscar nomination. And in Ms. Steinfeld one of the best newcomers to come out all year, in a role that has her battling against Mr. Bridges to see who can steal the movie the most, and that could also grant her an Oscar nod. Not to mention that the Coen’s are as good as always, doing their best at crafting a beautiful script, and showing a very sure hand as they deliver a knockout film.

What’s so good about True Grit, I think, is that even though it still honors the original film, and is really loyal to the novel upon which they’re both based on, it still really does feel like a Coen Bros. film. Because in all the western aspects of it, there’s still quite a bit of that very particular darkish humor the two handle so damn well. I thought that was terrific about this one, that it still feels so much like their other work. Because if you look at this and compare it with their other films, you’ll easily see how unalike it is to their past projects as far as themes go, but then you go see it, and you realize how alike it is, quality-wise.

I read the novel about two years ago, after I first saw the original film, and I thought it was a beautiful read, and this is a just-as-amazing adaptation of the work. One in which we see Ms. Steinfeld as Mattie Ross, a fourteen year-old girl who hires a man to help her track down her father’s killer. The man she hires would be Rooster Cogburn, the role Mr. Bridges takes on, and a role that he’s just seriously amazing in. I won’t go ahead and ruin some of the stories Rooster tells as he first appears, or some of the lines he utters, because that’s for you to enjoy first-hand and, moreover, no matter how accurate and lively my descriptions could be, nothing would match how Mr. Bridges embodies the role.

And it really is astounding to watch Ms. Steinfeld play off Mr. Bridges, because here, in her film debut, she really does go toe-to-toe with a guy who has been doing this for the past four decades. And really, Mattie is a role that was probably the only weak part of the first film, in which she was played by a then-twenty-one-year-old Kim Darby, who was made to look younger. Not because Ms. Darby didn’t play her well, because she did, but because the role just wasn’t that great. And yet here is a role that is very rich in the book, and that was dulled up considerably in that first film, but that the Coen’s have made incredible once again, and that’s portrayed by Ms. Steinfeld in a fearless performance that makes it so obvious that this is a young actress meant for greatness.

Mattie we first see in the film having to travel to identify her own father’s body, who has been shot by a man named Tom Chaney, who’s played by Mr. Brolin. After she identifies the body she settles his father’s accounts, and soon after is getting Rooster’s help, because, so she has heard, he was the right man for the job she needed doing, which is taking vengeance into her own hands. And so they embark on their journey to hunt this man, a journey in which they encounter a few memorable characters, not the least of which is LaBoeuf, the character Mr. Damon plays, a Texas ranger who also wants to catch Chaney and bag the reward.

Every little line, detail and shot here is finely tuned by the Coen brothers, who never stray away too much from the novel, because the historical context and rich idiom of it really does serve their trademark dialogue well. And the result is something tremendous to behold, because even though Rooster Cogburn is the main character, this is still the story of Mattie Ross, and, unlike the first film, they never once forget about that. I seriously cannot recommend this one enough, every little thing on display here is pretty much perfect.

The thing I feared the most about True Grit was how Mr. Bridges was going to play such an amazing role. Because when John Wayne played Rooster Cogburn he was really playing John Wayne, that’s why he had such a presence and built and and heroic image. For his portrayal, Mr. Bridges instead goes back to the drawing board, which in this case would be the original novel, and churns out a performance that’s just as memorable as that original one.

In the end, True Grit to me was more than just another example for why Mr. Bridges is such an amazing actor, more than my introduction to a girl who we’ll definitely see a lot more of in the coming years. It was another demonstration of just how masterful Joel and Ethan Coen can be. Not only is True Grit their first foray into the western genre, but you could say it’s also their first foray into any straight genre as well. They always combine genres to fit into their mesmerizing idiosyncrasies, but now here they are, playing a film as a straight out genre exercise, and the result is a thing of beauty. From the way it’s shot by their regular collaborator Roger Deakins (who I can’t believe has never won an Oscar), to how it’s acted by these amazing actors, to they way it’s directed by the two brothers, you’d think they would have been doing this for ages.

I’ll stop now, because I think I’ve talked enough about just how amazing True Grit is. There are performances here that you’ll remember years from now, and you’ll be enjoying the work of two very capable men, showing us how they can seriously tackle any single thing that may be thrown at them. This is just one extraordinary film everyone should watch.

Grade: A+


2 Responses to “True Grit”

  1. moviegeek January 9, 2011 at 11:32 pm #

    Damn. Another one we disagree on… Hehehe
    However I should give this film another try since everybody else in the world seem to love it.
    It’s probably to do with the fact that I just can’t get emotionally attached to westerns. But that’s my problem more than anything else.

    I just didn’t believe any of the characters, didn’t care about anybody (especially the girl)’ and even missed a lot of the dialogue with all that mumbling…

    • relativelyrealistic January 10, 2011 at 6:49 pm #

      Haha, well to be fair I’ve met a couple of people who think it’s a tad overrated too. But I went into it with supreme expectations, but then again maybe I’m biased because it’s the Coens and it’s Jeff Bridges and I can’t see a fault with any of them ever.

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