This eccentric and exceptional Western brings a new twist to an old form of film. The Coen brothers have never made a straight genre movie until now and this follows their dabble in traditional old West stories in “No Country For Old Men”.
I adore Westerns and ought to be positive about this movie. Bits are wonderful and ground-breaking and genuinely funny. Yet there are oh-so-cute moments that cloy by screaming about how very clever they are. And some of these are utterly ordinary scenes that feel meaningless and showy, in equal measures.
Yes, the ongoing Coen themes of crime, retribution, betrayal and redemption are all present and correct. The acting is extraordinary. There are moments when the sparse landscape and beautifully-lit cinematography takes the whole thing to a higher level and Roger Deakins has done an amazing job on this. Does it reach the level of “Unforgiven”? Too much fails to get up there.
There is lots of homage paid to John Ford’s territory. Indeed, the discerning viewer will recognise frames. The ghost of John Wayne takes giant steps through the whole thing and you may ask if Jeff Bridges is up to filling the Duke’s boots.
Jeff Bridges is having a good run. From his Dude in “The Big Lebowski” through to his reprise of this in “The Men Who Stare At Goats” and expansion on the theme in “Crazy Heart”, his rumbling mumbling schtick has grown in subtlety and form. I still like him better in “Tron – Legacy”. But – hey – that may just be me.
Jeff’s Rooster Cogburn is very good. Just in case you don’t know John Wayne’s Oscar-winning 1969 turn, he’s a US Marshall in the Wild West who is asked by utterly precocious 14-year-old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) to find her father’s killer and bring him to justice. It’s sort of a road movie on horses and on steroids. The main characters all smoke and the credits feel obliged to tell you that big tobacco companies didn’t pay for this.
It’s the inherent political correctness that annoys me. Matt Damon (sort of goodie but inappropriate to Mattie) and John Brolin (dad’s killer and baddie) are terrific. Barry Pepper, Domhnall Gleeson and Elizabeth Marvel all have great moments. There is something too knowing about Hailee’s turn here that reminds me of beauty pageants for the very young.
Is it the endless moving forward on horseback that creates the longeurs for me? I don’t know. So many others love it that it feels wrong to say that better Westerns have been made. Any episode of “Rawhide” is a good Western.
I looked at my watch four times. Everyone else at the Stratford Picturehouse seemed to adore it and looked transfixed, when I looked at them rather than at the screen. Oh well. Underwhelmed by the Coen brothers, yet again. Mind you, I wasn’t that fond of the book or of the 1969 movie. I like my entertainment to grab my attention a little more than this.
Maybe I am just too populist and shallow to be moved completely by this version of “True Grit”.