True Grit (2010)
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Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, Charles Portis
Matt Damon, Jeff Bridges, Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper, Domhnall Gleeson, Paul Rae, Elizabeth Marvel, Dakin Matthews, Nicholas Sadler, Ed Corbin, Joe Stevens, Bruce Green, Mike Watson, Hailee Steinfeld, Brian Brown, Mary Anzalone
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|Movie Review by Jarrod |
December 24th, 2010
'True Grit' is a remake of the popular 1969 film, that more closely follows the novel by Charles Portis, while paying homage to the iconic John Wayne performance as Rooster Cogburn, for which he won his only Oscar, which was really more of a career acknowledgment, honoring Wayne's lasting influence and remarkable contributions to American cinema. No actor could hope to surpass Wayne in this role, but then, there are few actors like Jeff Bridges, who comes about as close as anyone to capturing the rugged essence of Wayne.
Bridges's last collaboration with the Coen Brothers was The Big Lebowski, and I imagine they had him in mind when they first conceived of this project, which, I must say, surpasses the original in every way. This is the best Western of recent years, and Westerns are a dying genre, seemingly not as relevant as they once were, but occasionally, one comes along and garners acclaim, and the standard for modern Westerns was set by Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven. The Coens deliver a stylish, old-fashioned entertainment.
This is the story of a young girl, 14-year-old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), who arrives in the town of Fot Smith, Arkansas, seeking to avenge the death of her father. His killer is Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), a drifter who has fled into hostile Indian territory, and joined up with a gang.
Mattie is not deterred by the indifference of local law enforcement officials, and enlists the aid of drunken, one-eyed Deputy Marshall Cogburn, whom she hires as a kind of bounty hunter, to track down Chaney. Initially, Cogburn is not interested until Mattie offers an attractive reward, and she tags along with him, despite his objections.
Actually, I suppose he doesn't care one way or the other, but he comes to admire her resolve, and how well she can handle herself in a variety of dangerous situations. So, the bond that forms between them is predictable, but not as straightforward or as sentimental as we have come to expect. Mattie comes to see beyond Cogburn's personal failings, beneath the whiskey, the beard, and the eye patch, is a man who can be heroic and noble under the right circumstances. A third member of their group is LaBeouf (Matt Damon), a Texas Ranger looking to settle his own score with Chaney.
The tone is dark, but there are elements of humor, and the Coens, as is their trademark, can find humor even in the grimmest of scenarios, as they did in Fargo. Surprisingly, they also exercise a bit of restraint; this is a violent movie, but stays safely within the boundaries of its PG-13 rating, without feeling like anything was cut or compromised or watered down. Steinfeld is a terrific discovery, and offers a bold, powerful performance. She is supremely effective at making Mattie seem wise beyond her years, as she has to be, in order to see her journey through to its end.
The story is told almost entirely from Mattie's point-of-view, taking Rooster out of the spotlight, though he is still a dominant presence. As for Jeff Bridges, he thankfully avoids mimicry, and puts his own spin on the character, while subtlety referencing Wayne in both voice and mannerisms. We can accept Bridges in this role without constantly thinking about John Wayne (I never actually thought of Wayne at all), and that is a testament to Bridges's capabilities as an actor. Damon is also excellent as LaBoeuf, and I wondered why he has not worked with the Coens before.
Brolin makes Chaney into a sadistic, cold-blooded villain, a hardened criminal who thrives on murder and banditry. The stark mountain terrain is exceptionally, evocatively rendered by Roger Deakins, and while there are several glorious landscapes, a lot of the scenery is harsh and threatening, as if taken right from the pages of Cormac McCarthy. The epilogue is emotionally potent and satisfying, with eloquently wrriten narration from Mattie as an adult, reflecting on the past and her own humanity.
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