True Grit

Director: Ethan Coen/Joel Coen

Notable Cast: Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper, Hailee Steinfeld

Rating: PG-13

Review: Although not a full remake because this is the Coen brother’s reinvention of the novel, True Grit proves that there still is room for remakes in Hollywood.  There’s been a huge movement for more originality and less reusing old ideas in modern cinema, but veteran filmmakers the Coen brothers show that a remake done right is just as effective as an original, say Inception for example.  True Grit was originally released in 1969 and starred western film icon John Wayne, providing a challenge for the brothers because of its critical acclaim.  A daring move for the Coen’s to make, but some of the biggest risks reap the biggest rewards.  Assembling an eclectic cast to say the least, the Coen brothers us a style similar to No Country For Old Men and remaster the John Wayne classic, but in their own vision.  This was a new take on an old story that was so aesthetically pleasing and cinematically brilliant, it easily stands alone as its own film. Is there any genre the Coen brothers can’t bust into?

True Grit is a story of justice and revenge for young Mattie Ross (Steinfeld), whose father had just been gunned down by a common criminal named Tom Chaney (Brolin).  Mattie enlists the help of local U.S. Marshall Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn (Bridges), a man with a reputation of swift action and said to have “true grit.”  She also meets a Texas Ranger named LaBoeuf (Damon) who reveals he also is on the hunt for Chaney, who has been committing crimes across the country.  The unlikely trio sets out into a more wild and savage land to track down the elusive Chaney, and take down a group of local criminals in to process led by Lucky Ned Pepper (Pepper).  Rewards aren’t the only thing keeping the manhunt going, as our travelers make the mission their own personal quest.

Excuse me, Mr. Damon, there’s something crawling on your lip…

The beauty of True Grit is the simplicity of its actions.  Matt Damon, Jeff Bridges, and Hailee Steinfeld track Josh Brolin.  That’s it.  There’s a conflict, and there’s a resolution. No wasted time in between, yet the length of the film is an hour and 50 minutes.  But then how do the Coens hold the viewer’s attention with such little development?  By using carefully mastered visuals and minimalist dialogue, that’s how.  True Grit is just as Coen brothers as Fargo or The Big Lebowski, Fargo for the visuals and Lebowski for dialogue. True Grit takes place mostly in the vast wilderness, with no civilization except a few wandering indians and bandits.  Fargo was able to capture the desolate frozen tundra atmosphere so well by showing large shots of the baron, snow-covered town.  True Grit displays the great outdoors in the same effective way by showing large rolling plains and sprawling mountain regions.  It really sets the tone for the film by establishing the sheer difficulty of tracking down one man in this seemingly endless amount of land.  It set a more epic tone to the film, and included some rather gorgeous cinematography with some truly breathtaking shots.

Getting back to hitting on dialogue, it again was reminiscent of any Coen film; very unique and didn’t break style at any point.  All the lines were said in a completely matter of fact way, and the statements were always blatantly obvious.  Case and point.  Cogburn sees a man hanging from a tree and says “Cut him down, I may know that man.”  Mattie climbs the tree and slices the rope, watching the corpse drop to the ground.  Cogburn walks over to the body, looks at it, shakes his head, and says “I do not know this man.” Why did I erupt with laughter in the theater after this line?  Well, besides this not being a normal mode of communication, you get a totally no bullshit answer the characters can react completely to.  Cogburn telling LaBoeuf “I do not like you Mr. LaBoeuf” versus him saying “I’m not a huge fan of you sir” just embodies the Coen’s quirky use of dialogue.   The way they master lines to establish some kind of feeling or emotion is impeccable.  In True Grit, they went with a more manly and straight-forward method, which fit the gritty wild west characters in the best way possible.  There was nothing on their mind but reward and justice, which gave them no reason to candy coat their feelings.

Kudos to the actors in True Grit also.  It takes some brass balls to fill the shoes of the legendary John Wayne, but Jeff Bridges brought his own take on “Rooster” Cogburn. Wayne was an obviously much more masculine and tough Cogburn where Bridges was much more personality based.  He brought out the alcoholism and righteousness in Cogburn, deepening what would have been just another rough and tumble cowboy. Bridges is an Oscar winner for a reason, and while Reuben Cogburn won’t win him another one, it proves that a talented actor can take any role, even if he doesn’t quite look the part.  Hailee Steinfeld also shows her own grit as lead actress for her portrayal of the young Mattie Ross.  More well spoken than any of the other characters, Mattie was a very mature 14-year-old that said what she meant and meant what she said.  It was an extremely convincing and professional performance from the young actress that is sure to open numerous doors for her in the future.  Lastly, just a little funny occurrence me and my friend got a laugh out of: Barry Pepper plays Ned Pepper of the Pepper gang.  Chances they casted Pepper just because of his last name?

True Grit doesn’t try to mimic the feel of the John Wayne version that much thankfully.   It stands alone as its own entry, driven by the stylings of the ever creative and               undoubtedly unique Coen brothers.  True Grit ends the year off on the right foot, turing out to be one of the better movies of the year.  As far as westerns go, consider it a contemporary version.   It isn’t filled with silly bar room shoot outs and a ton of overplayed accents, but instead a steady focus on a simple story told brilliantly by all those involved.  Being much more of a cinematic treat than a time waster, True Grit surely stands by the title.

Final Rating: 8.5 mublin’ cow pokes outta 10

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About Matt Donato

I love all things film. I'll watch any genre, any actor, at any time. This whole film critic thing is a passionate hobby for now which I'm balancing with working in the business world, but hey, someday, who knows?
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1 Response to True Grit

  1. Pingback: 2010: Recap of the Good, the Bad, and Everything Else | Cinema Scrutiny

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