Movie Review: True Grit (2010)
Matt Damon, Jeff Bridges, Josh Brolin, and newcomer Hailee Steinfeld star in the widely acclaimed western by Joel and Ethan Coen, True Grit.
This remake of the 1968 Charles Portis novel and 1969 John Wayne film offers a strong-handed story of revenge recounted by a teenaged girl, as a young Mattie Ross (Steinfeld) seeks out the services of a U.S Marshal, Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn (Bridges), to get revenge on Tom Chaney (Brolin), who shot and killed her father. She is joined by LaBoeuf (Damon), a devoted and skilled Texas Ranger on their journey for blood.
The acting and stunning screen presence of Steinfeld, whose rightness for the role is drop-dead unsurpassable, stands toe-to-toe with the film's big stars. Damon and Bridges far transcend their roles in this post-Civil War western as we get a look at frontier towns and shops and see everything from the rations of beans to the bad dental hygiene. The film's costumes and authentic re-creations of the time period approach perfection.
Cogburn, a broken-down alcoholic lawman come to ruins, has killed more men than he can count. The fact becomes evident as he sits next to a noticeably placed spittoon beside the witness stand in court. His sometimes hard to understand voice (that without a doubt took some practice to avoid slipping in and out of during filming) makes the character more memorable than any other attribute, saving for the prejudices he holds that are common for the day, but serve to brilliantly accent the film.
His gruff speech, lack of formal education, selfishness, brutish character flaws, alcoholism, and grim determination, mixed with the heartlessness needed for the job, don’t deduct from his sought-after peculiarity. His nobleness underneath the calloused exterior does, however, which gives him a likeness to several encyclopedias worth of flawed heroes--and some superficial likeness to more recent western good guys.
The character of greatest interest, with a heaping portion of stone-cold originality, is LeBoeuf, an outspoken Texas Ranger with a reputation to uphold while tenaciously working to bring in his man. Here is a man of principle, a believer in due process, in justice and in law, but his years in the field have taught him to rely on his instinct and his humanity, as well as the wisdom that gives him relied-upon competence.
Contrast these two characters with the far less defined Chaney, an indifferent renegade outlaw, first and foremost in appearance, but also (we are told) in conduct. We learn almost nothing of the man. From all appearances, no real thought went into his construction beyond the menacing smirk.
It is difficult to take the almost scoff-worthy, simplistic plot premise of “He shot my pa!” and turn it into a well-nuanced work like this one, but here it stands. This delightfully detailed dirge is not without its faults, including the use of surprisingly modern-sounding phrases, like “time's a wastin,” which are odd, and more so than one or two episodes of dry mouth dialog. The inflections and overacting on the part of several supporting cast members come off like Whose Line is it Anyway? improv performances.
There are so few emotionally high and low points that it isn't until the end when the audience is finally touched in a significant way by the unfolding of the drama. It is there that a momentary psychosexual theme involving Mattie is needlessly thrown in. As to why it was thought necessary and then never supported, we will never know. But we know that True Grit remains very hard to dislike because of the winning performances of the leads and its non-conformist Coen touch.
True Grit has little idea of what it sets out to accomplish – as we’ve come to expect from its creators – who give life to their own personalized pet projects, apparently out of nothing more than the desire to have fun telling stories, or else modifying and putting their own personal touches on existing works of notoriety. The film fails to excel by reason of the fact that if you don’t dig the Coen Brothers’ contrarian styling (from which they can never break away), you may not find this western to hold up to what you expect to be a traditional gun-slinging romp, which it clearly is not.
Grade: B- (3 stars)
Rated: PG-13 (for some intense sequences of western violence including disturbing images)
Directors: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Summary: A tough U.S. Marshal helps a stubborn young woman track down her father's murderer.
Starring: Jeff Bridges "Rooster Cogburn," Hailee Steinfeld "Mattie Ross," Matt Damon "LaBoeuf," Josh Brolin "Tom Chaney," Barry Pepper "Lucky Ned Pepper," Dakin Matthews "Col. Stonehill," Jarlath Conroy "Undertaker," Paul Rae "Emmett Quincy," Domhnall Gleeson "Moon" (The Kid), Elizabeth Marvel "40-Year-Old Mattie"
Genre: Adventure / Drama / Western