Title: True Grit (2010)
Directors: Ethan and Joel Coen
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper
By: Joe Belcastro
The saying, “It’s not about the place, it’s about the people you are with”, refers to the level enjoyment one will have despite a dull setting. True Grit seems to champion that saying. A remake of the 1969 award winning flick – based off the novel by Charles Portis – is laced with patent Coen Brothers (No Country for Old Men) execution.
Personally, the methodical, dramatic action pieces the Coen boys take on always seem to lull this reviewer to sleep in random places. For instance, the first half of No Country for Old Men was amazing. Once it crossed into the heavy pondering dialogue between characters, the interest levels drop. So chalk this short paragraph up as a disclaimer before continuing on with this review.
Going back to the above referenced saying, the “people” (cast) will keep one in awe. Even though the dialogue has one of them purposely mumbling through their lines and the other loses a chunk of his tongue. All the party favors (set designs and cinematography) are treasures one wishes they could gaze upon in every movie. The “place” aspect relates to the scripting. Certain areas of the story go plodding along like a horse in desperate need of water. Just as the main character could pass out at anytime – due to the alcoholic haze he basks in – the audience may need to slap themselves to keep with this 110 minute classic western.
Fourteen-year-old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) has just lost her father at the hand – and gun – of shady outlaw Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin). The surprisingly educated, plain looking girl is out for revenge and looks to hire someone to hunt down Chaney and bring him to justice. After striking up conversations with all the locals, everyone suggests she seek out Marshall “Rooster” Cogburn (Jeff Bridges). The eye-patch wearing lawman looks as if he’s been on a bender for years. Out of shape and seemingly unaware of what is going on around him, he agrees to help Mattie. One stipulation he is not fond of is having Mattie tag along. Yet after she shows her “grit” he, along with Texas ranger LaBouef (Matt Damon) begin their tracking of Chaney.
That’s pretty much it folks. An occasional stop or two along the way sees a few rounds of ammo go off, but for the most part, this is a dialogue driven piece. How it differs from the original is that Jeff Bridges is having more fun with the character made famous by the late John Wayne. His acting is excellent but when the script chooses to have his comedic persona on display is questionable at times. In fact, the sequence of a few scenes just have no true flow to it. Then again, watching this in the comfort of your own home (lying down) instead of attending the uncomfortable press screening (which can keep a koala bear awake) may have an impact on why these moments seem flat out boring.
What is an absolute pleasure to watch is the combination of the classic western style benefiting from today’s cinematography. Panoramic shots of the simplest scenes do wonders for this flick. This is where one will be brought back into the mild adventure our three main characters embark on. Cinematography is the only modern spin put on this rugged tale. The characters and set pieces are matte-like photos. No need for glossy anything. Although, today’s coloring techniques are very much welcomed. And it’s nice to see clear shots at night. Production designs along with the classic dialogue enables the Coen’s to create a world that one would like to explore for days. Just wish the action dial was turned to the right a bit more.
Chemistry between Bridges, Damon and Steinfeld is as balanced as one could hope for. Steinfeld is running stride-for-stride with these accomplished actors. Great thing about this flick is every cast member is a deep character that harkens back to the great western lore. Even with the brief screen time of Josh Brolin and Barry Pepper’s characters, they somehow become lodged in your mind as memorable cinematic roles.
Overall, True Grit will execute a pace today’s generation may have trouble dealing with. If one enjoyed 1992’s Unforgiven, then this is a must-see. True Grit sums up the year of 2010 cinema quite nicely: Characters and performances have been stellar, but finding a complete story has been rare. The story found here is cohesive and the storytelling has a richness to it. What this “horse” needed was a few more spurs in the ass to entice a gallop. In others words, some life outside the characters needed to be injected in certain spots.
Rating: 4 out of 5