Sunday, January 9, 2011

Movie Review: True Grit

Release Date: December 22, 2010 
Studio: Paramount Pictures 
Director: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen 
Screenwriter: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen 
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper, Hailee Steinfeld 
Genre: Drama, Western 
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of western violence including disturbing images) 
Official Website: 

The Nitty-Gritty Plot Line
In an unrelenting attempt to bring her father’s killer to justice, Mattie Ross finds her way to a small courtroom in a western town where a drunk, gun-slinger of a deputy is on trial for needlessly murdering innocent civilians.  His name…Rooster Cogburn.  As Mattie listens in on the old man and his successful man-hunts, her eyes glisten as she decides to hire Rooster in finding Chaney, her father’s killer.

But the road ahead isn’t easy as Rooster is an old, senile drunk who doesn’t take to kindly to…well…anyone.  With the aid of a big-headed Texas Ranger named LaBeouf, Mattie and company set out on the trail for Chaney and his gang of murderous thugs.  But along the way, the three run into some difficult and life changing situations, all of which will redefine their outlook on life.

My City Slickerish Opinion
Having never seen the original John Wayne film version of the Charles Portis novel, I haven’t a clue as to how close the two films with the same name are as far as the story is concerned.  But having never been one to judge a film based on it’s loyalty to the source material, I can say with absolute certainty that my judgments are not based around any nostalgic sentimentality towards the Henry Hathaway directed original.

Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn
That being said however, one has to wonder how much of Jeff Bridges performance as Rooster Cogburn resembles that of John Wayne’s.  Or an even bigger question, how much of the story is a Coen Bros. trademarked film making technique, and how much of it is a tribute to the 1969 True grit.  Either way, it’s hard to deny that the story of True grit is without a doubt one of the best of any film from 2010.

Right off the bat we are shown a young girl, around the age of your average middle-schooler, taking charge of her life and not allowing herself to be bullied by the adults surrounding her.  Often times she questions the intelligence of any adult she comes in contact with, often sounding annoyed or put-off.  Never doubt her intentions as she might direct her inquisition at you by saying “Well that’s a silly question.”  Her determination in accomplishing her goal can never be questioned, even in the face of one of the most intimidating drunks you’ll ever meet.

The 2010 True Grit I’m sure presents a much more violent and bloody version of the old west than the one staring Mr. Wayne, (no no no, not Bruce.) of which I’m sure is part of that Coen Bros. movie making trade mark.  The thing I was most surprised by however was the darker tone in the overall story.  Naturally, when it comes to the Coen Bros., I can expect a bit of gruesomeness and blood, but I’ve never actually seen a John Wayne film that didn’t feel at least some what silly.  So, going into the theater, I was expecting something a little more light hearted. And at first, the film was exactly that; filled with laughs and an incredible amount of dry humor coming from every character.  But soon to follow are a series of very brief, yet very vivid, scenes of sliced ligaments, faces crashing into boulders, and incredibly graphic bodies hanging from tree branches many feet off he ground. 

But no one should be thrown off by this obviously more graphic and violent remake as the comic relief of the film will help dissipate any stomach curdling sensation you might have when it comes to blood.  The western trifecta has within it two men whose personal differences are hard to put aside.  The Texas Ranger, played by Matt Damon, is so high on himself and his kind that he can’t see past the dirty coat and greasy beard worn by Rooster, masterfully played by Jeff Bridges.  And our Drunk hero can’t help but shoot snide remarks and questions at the Ranger that involve the length of time he and his posse have been riding sheep.

But of course our star, new comer to the big screen, Haliee Steinfeld, puts on one of the most impressive and talented performances by any actor or actress in the last year.  She is quite the stubborn child with more “grit” than any other character in the film.  I honestly can’t wait to see what’s in store for the young actress in the future.  Only an actress with such a personality that Miss Steinfeld possesses could have pulled off playing a character with a knack for delivering such wonderfully poetic scriptural oratory. 

And it is in her character that sums up the overall meaning of the film.  The Coen Bros. have been recently bringing scripture into almost all their films, having little Mattie Ross quotes Solomon, “The wicked flee when none pursueth.”  It’s a story of wandering souls who fall short of the heroic ideal of which I’m sure John Wayne personified during his reign as king of the Western.

Matt Damon does wonders as the egotistical Texas Ranger whom we all hate in the beginning, but love towards the end.  But of course the role everyone wanted to see played out the most was Jeff Bridges as the drunkard deputy, Rooster Cogburn.  In 1969, John Wayne wowed audiences by playing the no good law man, and as a result, won the Oscar for it.  As I’m sure many fans of John Wayne will criticize Bridges for not living up to the Wayne legacy, (of which I completely disagree with) I think I’m justified in saying that John Wayne was only capable of playing one type of role.  John Wayne won the Oscar for playing John Wayne.  Jeff Bridges, should he be nominated for an Oscar (because sadly, he wasn’t up for a Golden Globe) it will be because of his uncanny acting ability.

As stated above, a religious undertone stalks the heart of this film’s core.  This religious heart is introduced through Mattie Ross and her Bible thumping, and is maintained with the gorgeous hymn of “leaning on the everlasting arms” of which most of the film’s music seems to be based off of.  By the end of the film, we find ourselves having been entertained by a parable of good and evil.  But within this film, differentiating the two sides is hard to determine as much of it is indistinguishable.  So lies the tale of how the West was won….or lost.  I guess that’s up to you.

10 out of 10

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