January 23, 2012

Movie Review – True Grit (2010)

Filed under: Movie Review — Rodney Twelftree @ 12:01 am
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True Grit 2010 v5 Movie Review   True Grit (2010)

- Summary -

Director : Joel & Ethan Coen
Year Of Release : 2010
Principal Cast : Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper, Elizabeth Marvel, Dakin Matthews.
Major Award Wins : Academy Award Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor (Jeff Bridges), Best Supporting Actress (Hailee Steinfeld), Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing. BAFTA Wins: Best Cinematography (Roger Deakins). SAG Award Wins: Best Actor (Bridges), Best Actress (Steinfeld).
Approx Running Time : 111 Minutes
Synopsis: In the old West, a young girls’ father is murdered by a wanted outlaw, so she hires a Federal Marshall to hunt him down and bring him to justice.
What we think : Better than the original? I think so. One of the best Hollywood films in recent years, this is destined to become a genuine American classic. Superb in almost every sense.

**********************

I’m the first to admit that my disdain for Hollywood’s penchant for remaking classic (and not-so-classic) films from history has become something of a joke amongst the film community – everything from classic horror, drama and even drama films are being lined up for the dreaded “modernization” (or, alternatively, “updating”) for younger audiences. Typically, remakes are technically proficient yet lacking the thing that made the original truly great – that lightning in a bottle which allowed said film to transcend the dust of history to remain a true classic. Remakes have a long, sad history in Hollywood, and yet people still think it’s a good idea. Personally, I’d rather filmmakers spend time developing new ideas and stories to bring us, instead of simply recycling older films with usually less-than-impressive credentials. Having said that, I find myself in the unusual position of watching a remake of a genuine Hollywood classic, and actually finding myself thinking it’s the better film. How the hell did that happen?

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Shove your Little House On The Prarie right up your ass!

Joel and Ethan Coen have done something I did not think possible in this modern age of cookie-cutter remake-happy cinematic laziness: they’ve taken a classic John Wayne film, re-cast it, retold it, and in my eyes, delivered one of the finest genre films to come along since Costner’s Open Range. Well filmed, with a more true-to-the-novel approach to the narrative, 2010′s True Grit has a refined, classic quality which is truly hard to ignore. The story is, at its heart, quite simple – Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) arrives in a small frontier town to collect the body of her recently murdered father; his murderer, a wanted outlaw known as Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), has fled for the Indian territories, meaning local law enforcement cannot pursue him. Mattie hires a grizzled old Federal Marshall, Ruben “Rooster” Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), to track down her father’s killer, in order for her to kill him. Her quest for justice is also enabled by Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), who also seeks to arrest Chaney for crimes over in Texas, a snafu Mattie doesn’t agree to, since it would mitigate her own sense of revenge. As they travel through the prairie of the Old West, the trail to Chaney becomes colder and colder, until a bit of luck brings about a final confrontation that will not only ask the drunken Rooster Cogburn to realize his sense of purpose, but deliver the long-awaited chance of retribution into the hands of the young Mattie herself.

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There’s a euphamism about dark, dank caverns here, but we’re not gonna say it.

Most reviews and articles on this film have trod the well-worn path of comparison with the 1969 John Wayne vehicle of the same name, a film which itself was also based somewhat on the original novel by Charles Portis: I’m not going to spend any more time trying to make comparisons to what is a revered (genuinely so) film in the Wayne canon, except to say that I think this version of the story is a meaner, leaner, more succinct version, and the more accessible to watch. The Coen Brothers, famous for films such as O Brother Where Art Thou, Barton Fink, The Big Lebowski, Fargo and Best Picture Oscar winner No Country For Old Men, have turned their eclectic gaze towards a more mainstream entry into their oeuvre. Their films are renowned for weird characters and indelible characters of what can only be described as an eccentric nature, with a penchant for being a little left-of-centre, however, True Grit represents perhaps their most straightforward effort yet – even moreso than No Country For Old Men, the previous holder of that title, in my opinion. This story of retribution, a quest film of quiet nature and muted eccentricity, is both wonderfully cast and superbly acted: directorially, it’s hard to find much fault in the Coen’s production of this story.

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Got mustache, will travel.

The first aspect of the film worth noting is the casting – particularly the twin leads of Jeff Bridges in the John Wayne role of Rooster Cogburn, and Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross. Both actors are superb in their respective roles, with Bridges delivering a scenery-chewing portrayal of the drunken wash-out whose best years are obviously behind him, and Steinfeld the most straight-up pain-in-the-ass girl I’ve seen on screen in ages (she’s adorable, really!). Bridges may chew the scenery, strolling through this film with the half-cocked drunken slur he can do so well, yet the Cohens never once allow him to overpower the film with his performance. Often, a single performance will overwhelm a film (won’t it, Al Pacino?), obliterating all memory of anything else well after the fact, and although Bridges threatens to do just that at times, the quality of the rest of the cast and the scripting rises to the challenge: Steinfeld, making her Oscar nominated film debut (damn, this girl can act!), is up to the task of holding her own alongside Bridges’ powerful portrayal. Mattie Ross isn’t a sympathetic character, as Hollywood is wont to present, she’s “a pill”, according to the Cohens themselves, and while a character that’s essentially unlikeable runs the risk of being, oh, unliked by the audience, the clever writing and spot-on performance by Steinfeld is mesmerizing to watch – Mattie might be a pain in the backside, but she’s the kind of daughter I think any father would love to have.

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You…. cuddle your horse?

If there is one weakness to the film, I’d have to turn the spotlight towards Matt Damon here. While he does a solid job as Ranger LaBeouf, accent and all, he just doesn’t feel as real in the role as his fellow cast members. The role of LaBoeuf was originally played by country singer Glenn Campbell in the ’69 version, and I think Campbells natural country style lent the perfect air of the man to the character – Damon can’t muster the testosterone for the part, and at times even appears to be hiding behind that bad 70′s porno mustache he’s forced to wear throughout. It’s not a distracting fault with True Grit, let me just add, but if there’s any specific weakness to the casting on this film, that would have been it. Josh Brolin, as murderer Tom Chaney, has a small role indeed (he appears late in the film), but does the role justice as the sniveling, bully-boy killer who seems more stupid than he probably is. If I was the Coens, and I know hindsight is a wonderful thing, I’d have cast Brolin as LeBoeuf and Damon as Chaney, because I think they both could have done better in each others’ roles. Just my two cents. Keen eyed observers will spot an barely recognizable Barry Pepper late in the piece too, as Lucky Ned Pepper (the role originally played by Robert Duvall in the ’69 version), a horrendously violent and morally corrupt gang leader who obviously has a history with Cogburn – a history that comes to bear in the films final confrontation.

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His stories about camping with boys didn’t go down so well….

I mentioned earlier that this represents the most mainstream of all the Coen films – the style the Coens have honed over the years in their indelible style has been reined in somewhat to deliver a strong, straightforward narrative that delivers the right punches, the beats of humor and violence, and holds your attention from frame one. Scenes set up the characters superbly – Mattie’s haranguing barter with local financier Colonel Stonhill (Dakin Matthews) is a delight to watch, while the introduction to Cogburn is screamingly funny in its own way, and the Coens sense of timing and style complements this narrative superbly. They have a sense of rhythm, the Coens, to tell a good story well, without dramatic flourishes or cinematic “poetic license” to lairise the camera about. Instead, the framing and editing of this film is pure and simple, without ostentation or obviousness. I guess the word “restraint” could come into play here; even though the flashes of violence could lend themselves to an explosion of testosterone-driven pyrotechnics, the film never becomes a blood-fest or gory for the sake of it. There is blood within the story of this film, of course; a film about redemption such as this would be pretty neutered without it. The focus isn’t on the gore or the bad things men do to each other, rather, it’s on the characters, and I for one appreciated it. With a cast this good, watching these people is an enjoyment in and of itself.

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Don’t ever make fun of my wispy beard again!

Of the two technically oriented things I’d like to mention, the most prominent is the cinematography of Roger Deakins. Deakins, a British cinematographer whose work on films as diverse as Shawshank Redemption, A Beautiful Mind, Rango, The House Of Sand And Fog, as well as almost all the Coen Brothers films since Barton Fink, has captured the dirty, crystal clear roughness of the American West perfectly, and both he and the Coens utilize the widescreen frame wonderfully, eliciting the emotion from each and every scene with relative ease. The other point to note is the wonderful score by Carter Burwell, a terrifically rousing, evocative orchestral work that complements the story superbly. God, I need to find a better adjective than “superbly”. It doesn’t do this film justice, and I’ve used the word way more than I normally would in a single review.

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Never wake a man who sleeps like this….

Simply put, True Grit is an amazing film. The story is told very, very well, with excellent performances by Jeff Bridges and newcomer Hailee Steinfeld (both worthy Oscar nominees, by my estimation) and a terrific supporting cast. The scripting is razor sharp (I expected nothing less from Joel and Ethan) and the technical side of the film is more than adequate to drag the viewer right into the world these characters inhabit. While other films come and go, True Grit (in both incarnations, I suspect) will become, and remain, a classic of both the Western genre and American cinema in general. It is essential viewing, and a film I’d not hesitate to use the word “masterpiece” in describing.

Full Marks Movie Review   True Grit (2010)

 

 

What others are saying about True Grit:

Rory Dean over at Above The Line has this to say: “If this film is a demarcation for the Coen brothers, a decisive interest in characters not so unlike us, it will prove to broaden their already significant and rightful presence among the best filmmakers of the past quarter century.”

Wow, strong praise!

Dan The Man drools at the mouth with his review: “The Dude playing a sheriff. This is heaven.”

Aiden over at Cut The Crap enjoyed the work of Hailee Steinfeld: “And big props to Hailee Steinfeld as Cogburn’s tween employer, Mattie Ross. Doesn’t hurt that Ross was the best character to begin with, but Steinfeld’s got the chops of someone twice her age and she holds her own like a total boss in her silver screen debut.”

Our mate Tom Clift had this to say: “As it stands, True Grit can be placed alongside Joss Whedon’s Serenity as the best good time western to be made in quite a few years, and yet another solid entry into the Coen Brothers extensive and impressive filmography.”

Sam over at Duke & The Movies begins his review thusly: “The Coen Brothers’ haven’t simply remade the 1969 classic film, True Grit they’ve reinvented it.”

High praise.

Finally, Will at Silver Emlusion had a more ambivalent feeling about it: “…In any case, it’s a good film that audiences unfamiliar with the story will likely enjoy and look to as proof that good Westerns are still possible.”

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Rodney is the Editor-In-Chief of Fernby Films, and has been appreciating films seriously since 1993. Rodney’s first foray into online reviews was for a now-defunct online Australian DVD store, before starting up fernbyfilms.com when that enterprise fell through, in 2007. Rodney lives in the South Australian city of Adelaide, with his wife and two young children, whom he loves very much.

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25 Comments »

  1. I genuinely think I should give True Grit a second try – the first time I turned it off after 30 minutes because I found it boring.

      Mette — January 23, 2012 @ 11:05 am

  2. True Grit was an interesting one for me- the first time I saw it, I was impressed but thought there were Coen Brothers films that were much much stronger. Over the last year or so, though, I've been drawn again and again to this one and it keeps rising in status in the favorite movie list in my brain.

    Great Review! I loved the line about Pacino.

      Adam Bellotto — January 23, 2012 @ 4:25 pm

  3. Wow…terrific piece Rodney…you have got me eager to see this now… This passed me by in cinemas but thankfully it has just come onto to TV in the UK so I'm going to watch it this week. I'll be back with my views.

      Dan — January 23, 2012 @ 4:30 pm

  4. Easily one of the best of last year if you ask me. Much better than John Wayne's version, Jeff Bridges showed him up!! Any Wayne fans that see this will kill me…

    Great review Rodney!!!

      Matt Stewart — January 23, 2012 @ 5:20 pm

  5. My only complaint was that it didn't feel like a Coen movie but as you say, it's a very straightforward remake. Great cast and excellent execution. Great film indeed.

      Castor — January 24, 2012 @ 12:55 am

  6. I think the amazing thing about the Cohens is their ability to jump between styles and genres so easily. Unlike, say, Tim Burton. Thanks Castor!

      Rodney — January 24, 2012 @ 1:31 am

  7. WOW full marks? I really need to see this film. For some reason it keeps on slipping down the pile!!

    On a side note. I don't know if it is me, but your website seems to be quite slow to load at the moment Rodney… I wonder if it is somethign to do with a CACHE plug in?

      Scott Lawlor — January 24, 2012 @ 8:41 am

  8. Thanks Rodney!

      Mette — January 24, 2012 @ 12:17 pm

  9. @ Scott – yeah, I've noticed the site slowing down over the last 6 months or so. I'll have to investigate my cache settings a little more closely. Cheers man!

      Rodney — January 24, 2012 @ 5:21 pm

  10. I would discount my own opinion of this one, simply because I grew up watching the original so many times that I am unable to truly watch this film with any objective viewpoint. There's so much that's directly the same in the dialogue and the staging of things that to me, this one doesn't offer much beyond that original experience. I am glad that people like it though, because the Coen Brothers will get more freedom in their following films because of the success of this one.

      Will — January 25, 2012 @ 12:06 pm

  11. Yeah, I loved seeing this in theatres last year. Heaps better than the original if you ask me. Nice review man.

      Vik V. — January 25, 2012 @ 3:34 pm

  12. I really enjoyed this film – I thought Bridges was great and Steinfeld is a little gem.

    I have the original to watch (mother-in-law bought in me after I said I watched this version and still haven't got around to seeing it!) so I'll be able to do my own comparisons.

      Claire — January 26, 2012 @ 4:43 pm

  13. I'm keen to hear what you think, Claire!

      Rodney — January 26, 2012 @ 6:01 pm

  14. Wow, tell us what you really think, why doncha? lol. i'm with Mette (not biblically),your review kindamakes me wanna see the film again because i found there was too much true and not enough grit for a Cohen Bros movie. The problem may have been i was looking for something offbeat and quirky and didn't find it.

    Thanks for shining a new light on this.

      Al K Hall — January 27, 2012 @ 5:46 am

  15. Yeah, this was definitely one of the more straightforward Cohen efforts – the narrative never deviates and the characters are pretty stright up and down, so yeah, I'd descrobe this as as close to a "normal" film from them as I've ever seen.

      Rodney — January 27, 2012 @ 8:34 pm

  16. I should say I'm not a fan of westerns in general so that might have to do with my less than enthusiastic reaction to True Grit. Not that it is a bad film – far from it – but my expectations were far too high for this one. Terrific performances all round – Barry Pepper was brilliant in another far too small role. But I felt emotionally detached throughout.

      Dan — February 20, 2012 @ 6:42 pm

  17. Thanks Dan! I agree with you re Barry Pepper: his role was criminally small, and by the time I figured out it was him, he was out of the film. Such a shame. Can I suggest another couple of westerns to you, which you may enjoy: Open Range (with Kevin Costner and Robert Duvall…) and the recent remake of 3:10 to Yuma. Give 'em a shot and let me know what you think!

      Rodney — February 21, 2012 @ 4:58 am

  18. This is a terrific film, one I think is better than the original. He he, I'll probably get into trouble saying that! Nice review, Rodney. I love the Cohen Brothers, and even though this is one of their more straightforward films, it does nothing but impress alongside their others.

      Elizabeth — March 21, 2012 @ 2:36 pm

  19. @ Elizabeth – Nah, you won't get into trouble here. We accept all opinions, especially ones we agree with! LOL!! ;)

      Rodney — March 21, 2012 @ 9:27 pm

  20. ey there young lady! Thanks for stopping by! True Grit is worth it alone for the performance of Hailee Steinfeld. Oh, and anyone reading this who hasn't visited Mette's blog, Lime Reviews & Strawberry Confessions, I can thoroughly recommend it as a good read! Go check it out!

      Rodney — September 7, 2013 @ 9:39 am

  21. Thanks man! True Grit's a film that grows on you – it wasn't until after I'd watched it and had time to mull it over that I realized just how good it was.

      Rodney — September 7, 2013 @ 9:39 am

  22. Can't wait to see what you think. I think you'll be impressed…. we'll see how good my guesses are!

      Rodney — September 7, 2013 @ 9:40 am

  23. So glad you're willing to take the flame on that one, my friend!! LOL!!

      Rodney — September 7, 2013 @ 9:40 am

  24. I didn't have the same passion for the Wayne version of True Grit, I think I've only seen it maybe a handful of times at best. Don't get me wrong – WayneGrit is an awesome film, but this version is equally so, in a number of different ways. I'd nudge you in the ribs over that last line, though – I'm pretty sure the Cohens have a fair degree of freedom already in their choice of projects, considering their pedigree and successes!

      Rodney — September 7, 2013 @ 9:40 am

  25. Thanks man!

      Rodney — September 7, 2013 @ 9:40 am

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