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#70. True Grit (2010) - Review

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I have never seen the original True Grit. I’ve have been introduced to the classic western through quick clips and John Wayne re-enactments. But even the clearest youtube video or the gruffest “fill your hands” recital cannot give a film its due. Unfortunately, having just watched the Coen Brother’s version of the film, I may never seek out the original in fear of ruining my appreciation for the remake.

Jeff Bridges in True Grit posterIt is no secret I have affection for Joel and Ethan Coen that no other filmmakers could equal. Their’s is a style and particularity that just fits my own sensibilities. Curiously, True Grit is unlike anything these men have made before. This is a western. This is genre filmmaking. This is spectacular. Their single inclination towards that which is everyday oddity has no place in this picture. The dialogue is as quick-witted and entertaining as ever; no doubt this is a Coen Brother’s film. In fact, the dialogue may possibly serve the only reminder, outside of the honestly graphic violence, that this is a Coen Brother’s film at all. To the point, commonplace, judicious, and shrewd. Yep, these are all characters in a Coen Brother’s picture.

But that might be about it. This is the most traditional film I believe the directors have ever made, and although it clearly wears their stamp, I do believe it lacks some of their voice. Their nuance is on screen; their attention to deal is evident. And yet the surreal consciousness that permeates their best work (No Country for Old Men, The Big Lebowski, Blood Simple) is missing.

With that said, even a lesser Coen Brother’s film is still shoulders above the rest. As of now (and yes, I am riding on the high of having just seen it) this has my vote for favorite film of the year. Notice I did not say “best” film of the year – but that is for another time. I haven’t enjoyed a genre picture in the theaters this much since perhaps Tarantino’s war picture. It is everything a western should be, and yet has the decency not to preach or talk down. Like the 14-year-old protagonist Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), the film expects the audience to be able to hold its own. The action and the dialogue come quick, and the Coen’s have no problem leaving you behind if you cannot keep up.Hailee Steinfeld in True Grit poster

The film follows young Mattie Ross, a bold teenager that just lost her father at the hands of the lawless Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin). Resolute on justice being served, she hires U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to help track the murderer down. Early on the duo joins forces with a Texas Ranger (LaBoeuf, played by Matt Damon) also on Chaney’s scent for the murder of a Texas senator, and together the three set out towards dangerous Chippewa country to hunt down their man.

Matt Damon in True Grit posterEarly on we learn that Ross hires Cogburn because he is a man of “true grit,” and so he is. Bridges’ Cogburn is a nasty old son of a bitch. He has killed more men then he can remember, and has no problem shooting a guilty man in the back. He is a filthy cuss, but is not short on common sense or feelings. He begrudgingly accepts the bounty for the $100 reward, but we quickly see the Marshall is sensitive to the young lady and her unfortunate plight. Bridges works the screen like a tired mule, but this is Steinfeld’s film. She dominates every frame, never allowing her larger counterparts to take control. Her Mattie Ross is as every bit world-warn and desensitized as Cogburn and LeBeouf, and yet her young eyes are too powerful to disguise her humanity. She has been put in charge of her father’s affairs, and seeing that his murderer is put down is just one of her duties. She steals this movie away from the likes of two Hollywood powerhouses, and I will be very disappointed if she does not receive a nomination for this performance.

With True Grit the Coen Brother’s have proven they are capable of making the most traditional of films. This is a classic western, where the villains are cold-blooded and the heroes are even colder. Cinematographer Roger Deakins is irreplaceable, offering the same masterful eye that he brought to No Country for Old Men and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. The Coen’s are capable of redefining the popular culture with their films. While this genre picture may not present the same idiosyncratic fare we have become accustomed to, it does serve to once again prove they are the best at what they do.

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Reader Comments (2)

Excellent review. Of course you threw me with the first sentence. I blame your father. 

December 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDaddyO

This was the first movie I've ever watched with my Dad where he didn't fall asleep. Jeff Bridges rocked!

January 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCory

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