Thursday, December 23, 2010

Box Office Review – True Grit

It seems that the audience of this film is and will be divided into two groups. There are those who will go into the film having seen one or two other Coen Brother's films. These people will come out saying that the film was dark and talky, but that should be expected from the Coens. The other group will be die hard fans of the Coens who will come out of the film saying that it is surprisingly standard genre fare from the likes of the Coens. I fall into the later category. True Grit is not the film I expected it to be. It is a film that shows restraint and it is a standard western done very well. While the film was not what I expected or wanted it to be, I still loved it. It makes me happy that the Coens were able to make a film that sticks so close to a specific genre's conventions. While they have done some brave and bizaree films in the past, I believe it is this film that solidifies them as being in the running for best filmmakers of the last twenty five years.

I rewatched the first adaptation of True Grit last week in order to prepare myself for the 2010 adaptation and I can say that they are distinctly different films. I have not read the book that both films are based on, but it is my understanding that the new telling is the more faithful of the two.

Relative newcomer Hailee Steinfield plays Mattie Ross, a young precocious girl out to avenge the murder of her father by Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin). She enlists the help of marshal Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) a man as notorious for being a drunk as his is for being a cutthroat marshal. Along the way they meet Labeouf (Matt Damon) a Texas Ranger also on the hunt for Chaney. This oddball group sets out into Indian country after Chaney and problems soon follow. The most obvious difference between the two film versions of True Grit is the characters. While the John Wayne film features a group of likeable souls the new adaptation features some very flawed characters. Bridge's Rooster Cogburn talks incessantly and most of the time is so drunk that he is hard to understand. Labeouf may not be a drunk, but the fuse on his temper is very short. It is inevitable that the two characters will clash, and clash they do. Damon's character is often not even with Mattie and Rooster as he has gotten so mad that he has left the group. This happens on more than one occasion. This does play a key role in the end of the film, but I won't spoil that.

While the majority of the characters in the film are majorly flawed, they are still quite likeable. All the actors deserve credit for this. The characters whther they be of major importance or not are all full fleshed out and realised. The characters all seem like they could exist in the real world and just like the real world it takes time to get to know and like someone. Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, and Josh Brolin knock it out of the park. Hailee Steinfield stands toe to toe with them. But, the most impressive performance is Barry Pepper as Lucky Ned Pepper. Ned Pepper is this notorious outlaw who has his own code of ethics. He doesn't seem like that bad a guy, just on a different life path. I could watch a Lucky Ned Pepper movie right now, and I but it would be thoroughly engrossing.

True Grit is a film built around characters and conversation, but that doesn't mean that the visuals are anything but amazing. Roger Deakins the man who set the standard for the look of modern westerns makes True Grit look (pardon the pun) gritty and beautiful at the same time. I can not sing the praises of Roger Deakins enough. He is the type of cinematographer whose work one can recognise immediately. Calling him the best living cinematographer is not a stretch.

The Coen Brothers have made a film that will stand as one of the best modern westerns. It doesn't have the boldness or ingenuity that I have come to expect from Coen Brother films, it is just really good genre work. I have heard that the Coens have an original Western script that fits better in their wheel house than True Grit does. I am not sure if that is true or if we will ever see that film. I am thankful that there is a Coen Brothers Western that exists now, especially one as good as True Grit. If anything the film shows that you should never underestimate the creative work of two geniuses.

A Gold Banana

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