Star - Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon
Directed - Coen Brothers
Run Time - 110 minutes
Oscars - 10 nominations
Genre - Western
Country - USA
Cert - 15
The Coen Brothers are the most infuriating directors out there yet still the Hollywood darlings, nominated for an Oscar for wiping their bottoms if there was a category for it. Their films are so hit and miss and don't make much money in the multiplexes but still the critic's bow down to them. Although they are known for making extremely over-rated arty movies, like the eccentric 'O Brother, Where Art Though', they also made stinkers like Burn after Reading. But it was Fargo and the Big Lowbowski that earned their reputation after the adored Blood Simple got them to the right table, the boys winning four Oscars to date for writing and directing. But you just don't know what you're going to get with them and so, rather pleasingly, True Grit is one of their worth while efforts, a western that grips you from start to finish.
The film is the brother's first remake, True Grit an iconic American movie made famous by a likewise star, John Wayne winning the Best Actor in a Leading Role Oscar for it back in 1969. So the question must be why does it need to be remade? I'm generally anti remakes of well known and successful films as it's lazy and cheap, like Hollywood did with The Italian Job and Get Carter (Stallone...what were they thinking of???). But remakes earn big bucks and we have seen with recent Hollywood trends to shrink the gap radically between original and copy, now down to just two years with recent Scandinavian hits like 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' and 'Let the Right One', that they won't let up on Americanising good movies for dim multiplex audiences. But in defence of the Coen boys here, True Grit is 40-years-old and a whole generation of young people haven't seen the original or, indeed, enjoyed the whole western genre. 3 :10 to Yuma touched on it but no one has really gone crazy for it.
That original version scored just 7.4 on the Imdb.com movie database to the Coen Brothers impressive 7.9, but earned just 6 nominations to the remakes 10. As good as Jeff Bridges turn is here he would not win the Oscar but did for Crazy Heart in 2009 from those back-to-back nominations and so happy to see Colin Firth getting the golden statue from his back-to-back Oscar nominations this year for The Kings Speech. Interestingly, Bridges is only the fourth actor to be nominated for a role that has already accrued an Oscar. Vito Corleone earned an Oscar for Marlon Brando and a nom for DeNiro whilst Jose Ferer won for Cyrano De Bergerac with Gerard Depardieu also earning a nomination for the big nose job. Judi Dench got the golden statue for Queen Elizabeth in Shakespeare in Love whilst Cat Blanchett got two nominations for her two performances as Elizabeth in the likewise titled movies.
Jeff Bridges ... Rooster Cogburn
Hailee Steinfeld ... Mattie Ross
Matt Damon ... LaBoeuf
Josh Brolin ... Tom Chaney
Barry Pepper ... Lucky Ned Pepper
Dakin Matthews ... Col. Stonehill
Paul Rae ... Emmett Quincy
Domhnall Gleeson ... Moon (The Kid)
Roy Lee Jones ... Yarnell
Leon Russom ... Sheriff
14-years young Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) is in vengeful mood, her father shot down by a man going by the name of Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), booze and cards pops downfall, Texas Ranger (Matt Damon) hot on Chaney's tail for similar misdemeanours in the Lone Star state. But Mattie is going to hire her own gun to run him down so he will hang for her crime in her home state. She is tenacious and resourceful and wants the best and has sold her father's estate and horse to pay for the bondsman, drunkard Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) the recommended Marshall, a man with one eye and one manner, uncouth.
After some disagreements on young ladies hunting down brutal killers, Mattie proves her worth and the pursuit begins and a long trek too. When they get into Indian Territory the Texas Ranger goes his own way after quickly falling out with the obnoxious Cogburn. But Roosters rather ruthless method brings the first clue to Chaney's whereabouts, resulting in a shoot out that brings the trio back together as they close in on Chaney's gang, headed by 'Lucky' Ned Pepper (Barry Pepper). But Ned has no beef with the marshals and is not about to give up Chaney as the lead flies...
In the original True Grit, Rooster Cogburn wears his eye-patch on his left eye. In the remake of True Grit, the eye-patch is worn over Cogburn's right eye.
Although the Coen boys are known for their distinct style they do enjoy cliché, plenty of Rattle Snakes, six-shooters and coffee pots and beans on the campfire alongside the tobacco spitting cowboy talk. But there is authenticity too; the costumes of the period and the western having a gritty feel too it, reminding me of my all time favourite films in the genre, that of Open Range with Kevin Costner, although this doesn't really get near to topping that belter. You need to see that film guys!
For once the Coens have made a film that has no pretensions or cry to be different, just a big old fashioned western under a likewise blue sky, how they should be, that beautiful simplicity probably why the Academy 'luvies' blanked this at the Oscars. 'The Coen brothers making conventional films? We can't have that! What's the world coming too?' They tried to make the modern western with No Country for Old Men but it was all visual and no story and so Brolin given another chance here to impress in his ten gallon hat. But this time they played safe and got it right, great tongue-in-cheek dialogue and plenty of gruesome killing making for an enjoyable two hours.
The cast is strong, Bridges and Josh Brolin having plenty of Western credentials and look the part here, both playing Wild Bill Hicko in previous movies, now craggy actors whether they like it or not, Bridge adding humour and cowardice to John Wayne's version of Cogburn. I am surprised, though, this didn't Oscar in any of the categories and I can't recall a previous film getting ten nominations and not converting at least one to the golden statue. Young Hailee Steinfeld in the lead is brilliant and should also have definitely won Best Female. So young was she on the set that child labour laws dictated that she could only film up to midnight, all night shots done by doubles, all the more reason to be impressed with her carrying such a major movie.
It cost $40 million to make and is by far the Coen Boys biggest gross, making ten fold back, the first Coen Brothers film to make over $100,000 in America. Americans just don't get the boys unless they are making mainstream films like Intolerable Cruelty and The Big Lowbowski and still they don't know the Coens directed those films, the conundrum for the boys. The Hudsucker Proxy and Millers crossing are seriously underrated movies and up until now I don't know they were Coen movies, such is the scattergun delivery of film topics and styles they chose to make.
Imdb.com - 7.9 out of 10.0 (96,245 votes)
Metacritic.com - 80% critics approval rating
Rottentomatos.com - 96% critic's approval
Film4 - "Solid, classy entertainment with something for practically everyone, from casual film fans to Coen brother's obsessive's".
The Guardian -"It could be the Coens' most straightforward film, but it's also one of their best"
The Times -" Not as out-there as Lebowski, as bleak as No Country, or as twisted as Fargo, but it crackles, like a good campfire, with colorful Coen flourishes all the same.
The Iowa Register - "This isn't the deepest Western or the most thoughtful Coen brothers film, but dang if it isn't a good time".
= = = = Special Features = = = =
-Mattie's True Grit-
Our young precocious start talks about her experience in a political way that will see her go far. We may have another Jodie Foster here guys.
-From Bustles to Buckskins-
A segment about the clothing and look of the film.
-Recreating Fort Smith-
A bit of a filler here as the Fort hardly features in the film.
= = = = = = = = = = = =
I've seen the original 'True Grit' film now about 3 times and after watching this Coen Brothers remake for 2010 I think I'd rather have watched the original again since it struck me as being the exact same film. No need to worry about spoilers if you have already seen the original because it's the exact same scene for scene as John Wayne's Oscar winning classic.
This does not make it a bad film, it's very watchable and if you have never seen the original True Grit then it is well worth a watch. The brief premis of the story is that of a strong willed and morally ritcheous 14 year old girl Mattie Ross played by Haillee Steinfield seeking revenge for the murder of her father by the evil Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) and employs the services of Marshal Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to bring him to justice. Cogburn is a hard drinking no nonsense gruff frontier Marshall who has 'True Grit' and also has a habit of bringing in more prisoners dead rather than alive. He reluctantly agrees and young Maddie insists on joining him which he is even more reluctant on.
When riding out into Indian territory they are joined by upstanding Texas Ranger LaBoef played by Matt Damon who is also hunting down Chaney for the murder of a Texas politician, again this addition to the team is suffered with great reluctance by Marshall Cogburn.
I won't go any deeper into the plot but suffice to say the trio encounter villains along the way and the tale unfolds as young Mattie seeks her justice instilling some of her virtue on her two companions along the way.
The film is well shot with everything having an authentic western feel and moves along at a decent pace, all the acting performances are first class, my only annoyance was I tired of Bridges drawling speech in his portayal of Cogburn very quickly but other that this it was a decent movie.
I do wish a scene or two could have been done differently to the original as I personally don't like remakes to be a clone of the original. Even though you could argue that the remake was a grittier more somber adaptation it stuck too closely to what went before for my liking, others may not find this an issue.
Runime - 110 mins
I haven't seen the first "True Grit" movie so I won't be comparing it in any way to the original film.
I watched this Coen Brother's version in the cinema - (hence this is a "film only" review) I chose this film in the cinema at random as I couldn't decide what else to watch. So I basically I went in with a ticket to True Grit, without a clue of what really to expect!
But here's what I thought about this film....
Deep, maybe too long...
With issues such as punishment, revenge and bravery.... and of course a young girl involving herself in all of this, you would generally expect it to be as intense as it sounds.
In a couple paragraphs, this story is about a 14 year old girl Mattie Ross (played by Haillee Steinfeld) who wants to avenge her father's death and so hires a bounty hunter Rooster Cogburn (played by Jeff Bridges) - an drunk old Marshall. She picks him because she says he's the only one who has "true grit" - genuine determination or just basically true guts. Tom Chaney (played by Josh Brolin) is the man who they set out to bring down.
And then comes along Texas Ranger LaBoeuf played by Matt Damon, who is also trying to pursue Chaney for the murder of Senator in Texas, and wants to apprehend Chaney and bring to Texas - Mattie wants to bring him home to be punished, so there's an instant little conflict of interest there.
This is the basic plot of the film and even though this movie is supposed to be about an hour and 50 minutes long which is not too long for a good film, it did seem as if I had been watching it for at least a good 3 hours.
Journey through the film...
So, like I mentioned, I began to feel the movie was a bit slow-moving with everything from the scenes to the speech - each scene was pretty lengthly and the dialogue, slow and maybe too long, but then as this film progressed I got used to the fact that this was the style of the film. It did in turn make you feel as if you were going along on this "journey" with them, because it went on for a while, and it gave you no other choice but to feel involved as well.
The movie reached its peak, in my opinion, when the Mattie finally comes upon Chaney - there is no Rooster nor LaBoeuf in sight during this time and its up to Mattie to take him down on her own. Plot-wise, this was probably the most attention-grabbing bit of the film, not to say the rest of the film was terrible, but it was this part in the film which made me think, "oh no, what will happen now?!"....so a bit of a change to the journey we were previously on.
But this is because the film does not seem to be ABOUT the idea of catching this Chaney, its about characters...
Despite all the above, what I realised was this film may primarily be about character development and their relationship with one another - and this is what I began to like about this film. We journey along with these three main characters; they tell stories to one another and we learn more about them as they continue on.
This film begins with the girl witnessing criminals being hung - something you wouldn't really consider okay for a young girl to witness even if it was set in the almost late 19th century (as they were probably a lot tougher then!?), but as a viewer you instantly recognise the courage element portrayed in Mattie and when she intends to go avenge her father's death we know that she's got it in her to go along with Rooster for the bounty hunting even though he told her not to tag along - she is overall a persistent little character and she means business.
Rooster's character is agreeable from the viewer's point of view, because we want Mattie to get her catch the killer and we know that Cogburn is the man to do the job - it doesn't take long for us to realise he's a ruthless, strong-minded man. We like him because he is fair and kind to the girl - and almost like her guard. There is definitely an aspect of care there - and all the characters begin to seem sentimental...
Should you buy the DVD?
Overall I found this film very powerful and it was everything I thought it might be - I didn't expect a fast moving tale with hasty Hollywood western style shooting although there are other typical western features such as a drunk, an almost perilous journey and the good vs. bad guy.
The plot for film is quite simple but relies on the strength of its characters to make it as meaningful as it is. Like I mentioned earlier "True Grit" is almost like a journey - I personally wouldn't find the need to go through it again, as it's the type you only need to go through once. Watching it again, may result in it becoming tiresome. To avoid spoiling the first time you watched the film, I would only really watch it once. So I would perhaps rent it out rather than own it as you possibly will find it sitting on the shelf not being re-watched again.
(Thank you for reading! - Also posted on Ciao)
Lots of careful planning and thoughtful consideration are required when attempting to remake a 60's classic. A job made even harder when that classic turns out to be a celebrated John Wayne film. So it must come as a sign of hope and comfort that with a string of successes in the Western genre that no doubt brought them into much-deserving spotlight, the Coen brothers are the ones who rose up for the challenge. But the fact remains; the last time the brothers tried to do a remake was 7 years ago and the result was "The Ladykillers," a less than adequate, quirky crime comedy thriller that was all in all disappointing. So this is their second shot at doing a remake, a popular trend in Hollywood nowadays, and this time, they've truly nailed it.
Wayne, being the handsome man that he was even in his 60's, played the role of Rooster Cogburn, an eye patched gunslinger talented in his hunting and shooting skills, with a certain level of cleanliness and class. Not a hint of that exists with Jeff Bridges, who interprets the same character in a more realistic way - he's a dirty old homeless lone gunman who hits the endless supply of whiskey in the Wild West morning, day and night. He spends half his life on horseback most likely without any change of clothing and washing himself must be a rare luxury. So it is odd and slightly worrying to see this trigger-happy, care-free Western lad paired up with a 14-year-old girl. Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), a sharp, bright young girl who is looking to avenge her father's death, hires Cogburn, solely on his reputation alone. Cogburn is the nastiest of the bounty hunters and Mattie wants the very best to hunt down Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin). Cogburn, the laid-back sloth that he is, doesn't accept the offer easily. But the persistent girl is not willing to give up any time soon and Cogburn figures it would be easier on him to go along with her little quest.
And off they go - they are also joined by LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), a Texas Ranger with his own reasons to find Chaney and bring him to justice. This does not go down so well with Mattie, who wants Chaney convicted and ultimately executed for the crime of murdering her father. But for the time being, they decide to work together towards capturing Chaney, who, as rumour has it, has joined the gang of Lucky Ned Pepper (Barry Pepper).
Steinfeld, a young actress (she was 13 when she made the film) whose steadfast, head-strong characteristic is both admirably and consistently portrayed, is much more effective in the role of Mattie Ross than Kim Darby ever was in the original. The entire film revolves around her, her own perspectives and "True Grit" is really her story to tell. Even the introduction which describes the death of her father, and how she came about to embark on her journey, in contrary to the original which shows the entire sequence in flashback, is summed up neatly and briefly in an informative voiceover of an older Mattie. There is one extremely amusing scene where the tiny Mattie verbally takes down on a salesman at least four times her age and walks away with enough money to fund her journey. Steinfeld intelligence and determination in her eyes and although her character stays mostly the same throughout the film, she spews out the complex dialogue of the script with perfect precision and for such a young and inexperienced actress to convincingly play opposite Bridges and Damon as one of the central characters to the plot is remarkable.
Mattie may be eager to exact her vengeance on Chaney, but the film never tries to mask her inevitable weaknesses and vulnerability. The sight of a dead body hanging from a tree is absolutely nothing new to Cogburn, he's shot at over fifteen men we're told, but to Mattie it comes as quite a shock. She may know how to shoot a gun, but her body cannot handle the gun recoil. She has enough verbal skills to make Damon's LaBoeuf look like a complete buffoon, but the dark forests, rough mountains, and harsh climate is no place for a girl her age. Was she too rash and impulsive in her decision to hunt down Chaney? She is fourteen after all, and her unwavering sense of justice may be admirable at times but it also shows her naivety. This is the first time Mattie is venturing out into the wild, and the dark side of humanity she witnesses certainly makes an impact on her.
Bridges also gives a stand-out performance in which his aged, filthy appearance immediately embodies years of "gritty" work and corrupt, tortured soul. The low, growling, mumbling voice of Bridges emphasises this even more, and sometimes his slurred pronouncements are difficult to comprehend. Western cowboy accents are never easy to pick up fully, more so when the character delivering the dialogue is supposed to be a drunk. But despite the small hiccups Bridges has no trouble getting the emotions across, and as his connection with Mattie grows stronger and deeper, he becomes more caring, though he would never admit it, and his warmer side is never shown too obviously or with unnecessary coy sentimentality.
Rich, snappy dialogue is something the Coen brothers are famous for and they achieve just that with "True Grit." There is sarcasm and plenty of humour when required, the trio's journey is full of playful banter between three very different characters, villains are given their share of menacing words to yell, and the touching moments are just as skillfully written in with warmth. The script is never awkward, but the one factor that is lacking is the usual quirkiness and odd eccentricities the Coen brothers' films are usually filled with. This is a straight-forward Western, and is not quite unique or special enough for someone to recognise this as a Coen brothers' film. As can be expected there is nothing to fault technically - the casting is exceptionally done, the soundtrack, which contains simple instrumental variations of famous gospels, perfectly fits the well-paced, atmospheric mood, the cinematography can be chilling out in the wild, but can often use the tender colours of fire and dusty surroundings of close and intimate sets of the Western world to create a stirring ambiance. It's just a little unexpected, but not at all a let-down.
Westerns are a funny creature. They've been around since the early days of cinema, and over this time the fundamental concept of cowboys riding horses and firing their six-shooters have managed to find an incredible amount of different ways of expression within this rather simple genre. From the black & white, good vs. evil, cowboys and Indians stories of the early days, to the more gritty realities of the 1960s, and finally becoming something resembling an art house fare in the last couple of decades, Westerns have had surges of popularity and general lulls in between their subsequent shifts in popular perception. Several times it has seemed that the Western genre can go no further and general claims of it being "dead" have been bandied about only to end up being proven wrong at the next turn as suddenly yet another Western pops up from one corner or another to revitalize interest in such films. First the Italians revived them after the public had started to loose their interest in such stories by completely rethinking the concept for a dirtier reality. This lead directly to Sam Peckinpah's deconstruction of the Old West beginning predominately with The Wild Bunch, thus opening the path for the revisionist Western type that dominated in the 1970s. Then it became more in tune with exploring ideas of the people themselves inhabiting this dusty world and the subsequent consequences of their actions in films like Dances With Wolves and Unforgiven. And after that it has again moved into a new gear by essentially trying to mix all of these ingredients together for its eventual evolution into bringing back the greater struggle between good and bad without trying to destroy the lifestyle, while still holding onto the grittier feel we've come to expect from such films. It is in this last category that the newest film from the writer-director pair of Ethan and Joel Coen largely hails from.
A remake of the 1969 John Wayne vehicle of the same name (and based on the novel by Charles Portis), True Grit follows a young, 14-year-old girl trying to exact justice on the man responsible for murdering her father by hiring a tough-as-nails U.S. Marshal (who supposedly has what is referred to as "true grit") to bring him back to justice from the Indian territories he has fled to. Also after the same man is a true-and-blue Texas Ranger who wants him for another murder committed several months prior on a Texas politician, and it is these three that - after some disagreements - form an unlikely posse for the tracking down of the murderer. Now I admit to never having seen the original True Grit (much due to my general dislike of John Wayne), nor have I read the book either - which the Coens' version is said to adhere more closely to than the earlier film - so I have no real idea how the remake compares to either. But that aside this is certainly not a film that will likely leave you feeling too miffed for any changes or differences in the source material - or indeed those who are more familiar with the Wayne movie instead of the book. The Coen brothers have crafted a fairly slick Western that ambles together a lot of humour, gunfights, good performances, a generally light hearted mood, and pacing that makes the film feel shorter than the 110 minutes it runs. Now the plot itself is rather overly simple to the point of it being really nothing more than just a suitable framing device, and due to this the acting performances really become the barometer on how successful the whole of the film will eventually prove to be. Thankfully the main cast are well chosen and make the most of the script's witty dialogue and hefty sense of humour, providing very human portraits of their characters that are both flawed, but also multi-dimensional.
Jeff Bridges as Marshal "Rooster" Cogburn relishes in his gruff and tough character who is heavily liqueur prone and assured of his own abilities despite his generally devil-may-care attitude. His rivalry with the cocky Texas Ranger LeBoeuf is particularly entertaining to watch and Matt Damon likewise seems to have a lot of fun being essentially the straight man to Bridges' bear-like crassness, but at the same time still being very much alike a little boy trying to show off to his daddy. But apart from the two male leads, it is definitely Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross who really steals the show here over either of the two men. Steinfeld in her debut on the big screen impresses with her confidence in front of the more experienced actors with her spunky attitude, performing her part as a headstrong, straight-talking, and smart girl exceptionally well, who is more than able to verbally spar with any of the other characters in the film and usually come out as the winner every time. She has presence, is likable in her determination, and owns the verbally proficient script with a good sense of humour and aplomb to boot. Why she was only considered as a "supporting actress" in the last Oscar run I'll never understand. The rest of the characters in comparison to the three mains admittedly tend to remain more in a minor role, though still pulling off adequately good performances for the small roles they do have. Josh Brolin as the murderer/thief Tom Chaney and Barry Pepper as the bandit leader Lucky Ned stand out, but their parts are too small to make them really anything more than plot devices in the end. But when all these people are combined with the abundant humour that is sprinkled all over the place, let it be the bickering and rivalry of the main characters, the little side characters they meet on the road (like the old doctor with the tooth fetish, or the member of Lucky Ned's group that only speaks through animal noises), which combined with the general warm feeling - a notable departure for the brothers' general fare - makes it a pleasantly fun and traditional Western to watch through its entire running time... without of course forgetting the small bursts of gun toting violence no Western would ever be complete without.
However, where the film somewhat let me down was not in its acting or for the way it looked, but more in the way that the film's plot itself is just so flimsy on the whole. And I have no problem in watching and liking movies where the main point of interest resides elsewhere than in its actual story, but in this case I was left feeling entertained for about two hours, and this is largely where it left off. I liked the acting. I liked the general feel of the movie. I liked the humour. I had a good time... But upon leaving the theatre I said to myself that even though I know I enjoyed watching the film, it also left me not really feeling like thinking much more of it once I got home. It's always great to be left with some kind of an afterglow once you leave the movies, but when it came to True Grit I didn't really get this feeling. Also the technical aspects didn't much excite me either, not the cinematography of Roger Deakins, the editing of the Coens' themselves under the pseudonym of Roderick Jaynes, nor the music of Carter Burwell. They weren't bad by any means, but I've seen more visually and aurally stimulating films that True Grit failed to really evoke in a way I would have hoped. The production design of Jess Gonchor was of the quality you'd expect from a modern Western and is a technical highlight. Also there were a couple of nice shots strewn around here and there, but ultimately True Grit left me feeling the same as if after eating a roll of Geishas for dinner: enjoyable when they last, but they're not going to make your hunger go away. It's definitely worth seeing for the performances alone as they are quite good, and you could certainly spend your time in worse ways than seeing the film - such as time travelling to the Titanic or attempting listening to drunks sing karaoke - but as much of it is fun enough as it is, it also leaves one wanting more meat on the plate once all is said and done. Thumbs up, but you'll have to settle for a regular cancer stick instead of the classier cigar.
© berlioz, 2011
Cinematic wisdom holds - and with good reason - that remakes are never a good idea; and, after their distinctly tepid Ladykillers remake, that remakes by the Coen Brothers are definitely not a good idea.
Based on a John Wayne film (and, of course, a book before that), True Grit follows the tale of a young girl Mattie Ross whose father is murdered in the old West. Determined to avenge his death, she hires a US Marshall, Rooster Cogburn to track him down and bring him to justice... insisting that she accompanies Cogburn on his quest.
Let me start off by saying that I have never seen the John Wayne original, so have no idea how this version compares. As a standalone film in its own right, however, I found it extremely enjoyable - and that coming from someone who normally avoids Westerns like the plague.
It's true that, to 21st century eyes, the plot seems a little simplistic and basic - a straightforward tale of revenge with no real plot twists or sudden revelations. The highly moral storyline might seem a little naïve, but you need to remember that the film is harping back to a simpler age when the concepts of "right" and "wrong" were more clearly defined. Indeed, the simple story and moralistic stance works in the film's favour: there's no need to take in every last detail on screen or concentrate really hard, lest you miss some small detail that will become significant later on. Instead, you can simply sit back and enjoy True Grit for what it is: a simple story, well told and well acted.
If the plot is simple but effective, then the casting is nothing less than astonishing.. There are a lot of big names involved in True Grit, yet none try to dominate the film and are content to cede screen time to the other when the script demands it; each of the major actors involved has a clear role within the story and slot into this, complementing each others' performances perfectly
Taking most of the plaudits, of course, is the superb Jeff Bridges as drunken, grizzled US Marshall, Reuben "Rooster" Cogburn. In Bridges safe hands, Cogburn is a complex and nuanced character, and one who manages to sidestep the usual genre stereotypes. Sure, he's tough, slightly selfish and very abrasive, yet he also has within him the capability for compassion, sympathy and understanding. More importantly, all these characteristics exist within him at once - there is no "epiphany moment" where he suddenly sees how his life might be different if he gave free reign to his emotions; it's just that for once, circumstances allow him to display a different side to his personality. This characterisation is handled with great subtlety by Bridges who revels in the film's more comic moments, yet generates plenty of sympathy in its more tender moments, whilst also showing sufficient steel to convince as a warrior and survivor.
He is matched almost pace for pace by Matt Damon as Texas Marshall LeBoeuf. If you only know Damon from his crowd-pleasing antics in the Bourne films, then his more subtle, restrained performance here will delight you. Once again, LeBoeuf has a genuine character arc which sees him going from someone you distrust and have pegged as "bad guy" to someone far more sympathetic, without any obvious audience manipulation techniques. Meanwhile, his constant bickering with Jeff Bridges provides many of the film's lighter moments.
If these two give self-assured performances, then they are almost outshone by the third member of this (un)holy alliance. Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross is incredibly self-assured and full of poise for someone so young. She maintains exactly the right balance between feistiness (early scenes of her haggling with a trader are priceless) and vulnerability (her dependence on LeBoeuf and Cogburn touching and highlight the plight of women - and highlight the powerlessness of women - and particularly minors - in a highly patriarchal society).
Yet, although these three command most of the screen time, there are still very strong, nuanced performances from some of the support roles - not least Josh Brolin (as the object of Mattie's vengeance) and Barry Pepper (as an outlaw). Once again, these break free of genre stereotypes and, even though we know what they have done, they arouse a great deal of sympathy in the viewer, and the line between their characters and Cogburn is very thin indeed.
As you might expect from a Coen brothers film, the cinematography is stunning. Taking up where they left off in No Country for Old Men, the backdrop to the action almost becomes a character in its own right. Shots are perfectly framed to capture a mood (tension, levity, danger) with much of the action set against sumptuous backdrops. Where there is violence, it is necessary violence - full of sudden, unmistakable ferocity - and never simply used to pep the film up a bit.
It's only really the ending which lets True Grit slightly. It reaches an almost flawless conclusion, but then feels the need to add an unnecessary coda which lessens the power of what has happened before. It's a shame that this ending has been misjudged, because the rest of the film is so powerful that the final 5 minutes feels deeply anti-climactic.
True Grit may be a simple, moral tale, but it's also a very powerful one and one which has been well-told and well-acted. Sometimes, simple is good; and this is one of those times. It's so good that I have no intention of going back now and watching the John Wayne original - as far as I'm concerned, True Grit was made in 2011!
This year has already brought three outstanding films - The King's Speech, The Fighter and now True Grit. I just hope that Hollywood hasn't exhausted itself and used up its annual quote of quality. If only they could maintain this standard for the next 12 months, 2011 would be a very special year indeed for cinema.
Directors: Joel & Ethan Coen
Running time: approx. 110 minutes
© Copyright SWSt 2011