Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Review: Gritty "True Grit" Offers Great Characters and Superb Performances

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 6 (of 2011) by Leroy Douresseaux

True Grit (2010)
Running time: 110 minutes (1 hour, 50 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for some intense sequences of western violence including disturbing images
DIRECTORS: The Coen Brothers
WRITERS: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen (based upon the novel by Charles Portis)
PRODUCERS: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, and Scott Rudin
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Roger Deakins (D.o.P.)
EDITORS: Roderick Jaynes (Ethan Coen and Joel Coen)
COMPOSER: Carter Burwell


Starring: Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper, Candyce Hinkle, Roy Lee Jones, Orlando Smart, and Ed Corbin

The latest film from the Coen Bros. (Joel and Ethan) is the Western, True Grit. It is the second film adaptation of the 1968 Charles Portis novel, True Grit; the first was a 1969 film starring John Wayne. True Grit is the story of a stubborn young woman who convinces a tough U.S. Marshal to help her find her father’s murderer.

After her father is murdered by one of his hired hands, a man named Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), 14-year-old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) arrives in a small town to collect her father’s body and get his killer. She attempts to hire U.S. Marshal Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to track Chaney into Indian country where he is hiding with a gang of criminals. Mattie tells Cogburn that she chose him because he has “true grit,” but that isn’t enough to convince Cogburn to take the job. When he does accept the offer, Cogburn decides to take a vain Texas Ranger, LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), with him instead of Mattie. But the young woman is about to show them both that she also has “true grit.”

As they do in all their movies, Joel and Ethan Coen get great performances from their actors. Jeff Bridges gives so many layers to Rooster Cogburn (the role John Wayne played in the 1969 film). The viewer will spend the entire movie peeling those layers back and still not have the whole story on this character that Bridges makes so real. Although LaBoeuf isn’t quite as interesting as Rooster, Matt Damon shows his true grit by making a vain chatterbox and (at best) semi-competent lawman/nincompoop a character that I wish was onscreen more.

Yes, the praise that newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, as Mattie, has received for her performance in this film is not mere hype. She’s a natural, and she makes this movie as much as anyone else does – including the Coen Bros.

The one glaring weakness that keeps True Grit from being a truly great film is how the filmmakers treat the villains. There is potential in Josh Brolin’s Tom Chaney and especially in Barry Pepper’s “Lucky” Ned Pepper, but both are hardly ever on screen. The film spends so much time showing us the tremendous work of Bridges, Steinfeld, and Damon and their characters that everyone else gets shorted.

There isn’t anything really profound about True Grit, except this tidbit at the end: time catches up with everyone. This film is really not about ideas. True Grit, even with the performances at its heart, is a Coen Brothers film. This is about how they do it – their style, their rhythms, their quirks, their directorial trademarks and flourishes. That’s not a bad thing simply because Joel and Ethan Coen do their thang so well.

8 of 10

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


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