Mon 27 Dec 2010
In golf, players groove their swings at driving ranges. They can practice different stances, grips, swings and curse words.
And in movies, I feel like Joel and Ethan Coen have grooved their craft by making True Grit, a pretty terrific film that would be a masterpiece if done by just about anyone else, but given that it’s a Coen Brothers’ project, it feels a bit light. There’s nothing wrong with the film, it’s just I have great expectations with any Coen film.
Since 1984, the Coens have reliably delivered some of the freshest films in cinema. Blood Simple, Raising Arizona, Barton Fink, Fargo, The Big Lebowski, O Brother Where Art Thou, No Country For Old Men and on and on, the Coen world is one that made sitting in the dark enriching and memorable. Their gift for dialogue, their eye for casting, framing a shot, getting quirky but believable performances have distinguished their career.
True Grit has the Coen elements, worth the price of admission just to see the faces of the extras and supporting cast, and I’ve heard the dialogue is fairly representative of the book (which I need to read), but I wish the brothers had done an original story, a true Coen take on the west– not a remake of a great film.
I’m doing something here I hate, inflicting my will on the artists, but I have to say it: I have a Coen crush. I want their originality. Dance, monkeys, dance!
All right, I’ve exposed my prejudice, not let me discuss the film. See it. I don’t recall much about the original True Grit except that Kim Darby was great, John Wayne had the performance of a lifetime, and Glen Campbell was terrific.
The story is a feast. Mattie Ross, a 14-year old girl wants to avenge the murder of her father by an evil man, so she hires the meanest marshall bounty hunter she can find (Rooster Cogburn). But get a load of this: the evil man is also being hunted by a pompous Texas Ranger (LaBoeuf). The movie is their adventure of seeking justice in a harsh land.
In this version, newcomer Hailee Steinfeld plays Mattie and is wonderful. Jeff Bridges fills Rooster’s boots quite well as the drunken ornery man of justice at a price– whatever he can get in addition to reward. Matt Damon is great as the braggard LaBoeuf and Josh Brolin delivers the goods as the dad-killing evil Tom Chaney. Spice it up with some dastardly Lucky Ned Pepper (Barry Pepper), and you’ve got a fine stew of conflict.
Director of Photography, Roger Deakins, shoots it on a canvas of muted colors and dusty yellows. There’s nothing flashy here, just great story telling told with little infliction of style or point of view. And I guess that’s my overriding critique, I wish it were more Coen.
That said, I want to see it again. And again and again (we are talking Coen Brothers here).