Starring: Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Hailee Steinfeld
Directed by: The Coen Brothers
Running time: 110 minutes
Leave it to the Coens to once again help salvage a crappy movie year. Last year, it was the quirky and underrated A Serious Man. This year, it’s True Grit, an adaptation of the 1968 Charles Portis novel and remake of the 1969 film that won John Wayne his only Oscar for the iconic role of Rooster Cogburn.
I had my doubts in the opening minutes that this film might be more Burn After Reading than Serious Man. The Brothers lay the fancy dialogue on thick, young Mattie Ross seems far too old a soul for a 14 year-old girl, and Jeff Bridges’ interpretation of Rooster initially comes off a bit like John Wayne-meets-Sling Blade (mmm-hmmm).
But thankfully, the movie settles into a rhythm quickly and you’re soon hooked.
They tell me you are a man of true grit…
The plot of True Grit is reminiscent of most Westerns (and, truth be told, most Chinese karate movies): vengeance of a murdered loved one. In this case, the central character is 14-year old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), who has come to settle her father’s affairs (on behalf of her grief-stricken mother and two siblings). While there, she also makes plans to bring her father’s murderer to justice. The man in question is a two-bit alkie drifter named Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) who has fled into nearby Indian territory and joined up with a local gang led by Lucky Ned Pepper (Barry Pepper).
Concerned that local law enforcement doesn’t give two buffalo chips about the killing, Mattie enlists a local marshal (Rooster Cogburn, a no-nonsense former criminal-turned-lawman who’s known “to pull a cork”) to bring him in, enticing him with a stack of cash. Along the way, they fall in (and out, and in again) with LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), a less-than-competent Texas Ranger who has been hunting Chaney for killing a Senator.
From there, the chase is afoot.
Much of what follows is True Coens: Dry, sharp dialogue. Impeccably filmed, sweeping landscapes that make the scenery a character itself. Bursts of humor despite grim circumstances. And strong across-the-board performances from the entire cast (outside of the main players, Josh Brolin and Barry Pepper are particularly good).
On the flip side, like most Coen films, there is something of an emotional barrier between you and the characters. While Steinfeld is excellent as young Mattie, I wished there were more moments where the 14 year-old inside her bled out a little in times of duress. You would’ve crumbled at the sight of it (it happens once in a brief flash between her and LaBoeuf, and it’s subtly powerful), but it never happens.
I had to remind myself not to be overly critical of this element, however – not so much because this is a Coen movie, but because it’s a Western. The next Western to show emotion will be the first, so can’t complain too much. Not when there are so many good things about the movie to dwell on.
It is always a pleasure to see The Dude at work – and Bridges doesn’t fail to disappoint here. He’s sure to get nominated for an Oscar (as is the movie, the screenplay, the cinematography, and Hailee Steinfeld in what will likely be the Best Supporting Actress category).
I don’t think the movie will garner many wins, however (I think Colin Firth is a lock for Best Actor and that The Social Network is going to steamroll come Academy Award time). But that means little. All in all, the movie is excellent and worth seeing – this easily makes my Top 10 list for the year (and would easily have done so even if it hadn’t been such a weak movie year). Go.
Mike’s verdict: B+
But don’t just take my word for it…
The average Metacritic score was 80 out of 100 (“Generally favorable reviews”) – and would’ve scored higher if one critic (cranky Rex Reed, who I honestly thought was dead) didn’t hold such a bias against “pretentious filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen.” Call me a harsh critic, but I don’t have it in for anyone in particular (well, except Ron Howard. He sucks).
Oh, and for whatever it’s worth, it should be noted that the two old guys I was next to in the men’s room stall after the movie felt this was good, but could not hold a candle to the original.
[Rated PG-13 for violence and mild profanity.]