Posted by: greercn | February 13, 2011

True Grit

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”.

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Responses

  1. I think Hailee Steinfeld was completely wonderful in this movie and it was a shame she wasn’t given the nomination for best actress.

    Rest of my thoughts here: http://imagemoved.wordpress.com/2011/02/13/oscar-talk-hailee-steinfeld/

    • I agree that she is a wonderful actress. But I think she will do better work in the future, when she is not in a Coen brothers’ movie. That’s just my opinion. She deserves to have more room to breathe, rather than being set in stone, here.

  2. Aw I thought you would love this.. very honest review. I was one of those captivated folk, the main thing that hooked me in was the sheer toughness of the characters, it’s just another world of toughness, and the kit they wore is such quality! Also you cant beat a public execution for tension. Not your bag? Probably not a bad thing, but you do set a hefty target of seeing every film!

    • I know I am in a minority here. Everyone else loves this movie. I got irritated by the perfectly clean and ironed clothes Mattie was wearing when she is supposed to be sleeping outdoors. Noticing a detail like that means my attention is wandering. The toughness of the characters and the brilliant cinematography are worth noting.

  3. I don’t get out to movies often…not because I don’t like them, but we have a single screen in town, and since its corporate takeover it almost entirely shows first run hollywood but a couple of weeks late, but I bothered with this one because I loved the John Wayne/Glen Campbell original…now, I bonded with my dad over (very-little-else-except) Westerns, and continue to think that if not all, then a hell of a lot of, human life is there, except much in the way of central female characters, which means my proper 70s feminist wife doesn’t watch along, but she knew I wanted to see this and had been disappointed I couldn’t go with my proper 2000s Ninja daughter to it due to the 15 cert (we’ll be watching it on DVD later) so took me on a date to the nearest city…..and we did both enjoy it immensely, and,although, on points and childish resonance, if only one True Grit could remain, it would be the John Wayne version, I can’t really agree that a random episode of Rawhide would measure up, and the comparison of Hailee’s “turn” with tweeny beauty pageants is waaaay off…. as for Unforgiven, it’s just not comparing like with like, although both are labelled “Westerns”.
    What Lea said was that, unlike many Coen brothers movies (and we like a lot of them), it was a very warm film, almost everyone, even the villains, were kind of likeable, as they were because of the circumstances they were in.

    ps. as well as looking presentable while sleeping rough (which, actually, is possible (not for me but i know people who do…)), her presumably woollen clothing is dry within seconds of crossing the river.

    • That’s a thoughtful comment! Thank you. I think I go wrong on the Coen brothers and this has been pointed out to me before. I saw “True Grit” again and liked it considerably more the second time around. With “Fargo” and “Blood Simple”, I liked them right away. I didn’t enjoy “No Country For Old Men” until the third time I saw it. Perhaps it’s the likeability of the characters that I didn’t see, on the first viewing. Or maybe there is just something about how the Coen brothers see things that takes me a second viewing to appreciate.


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