A Review with “True Grit”

There are certain people in Hollywood that provoke a reaction with the just the mention of their name: Spielberg, Tarantino, Scorsese. On very rare occasions someone becomes so iconic in their field that just being attached to a production suddenly makes it notable. The Coen Brothers have secured such notoriety long ago and are still providing content to cement their legacy. In the end, True Grit is just another Coen Brothers movie; that is to say it’s visually stunning, quirky, full of talented actors at the top of their craft and brazen in its dedication to the art of storytelling .

The movie focuses on fourteen year old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) as she seeks righteous retribution against her father’s killer by bringing him to justice. Quickly she finds that law enforcement in the wild west is over worked and understaffed. Afraid that the murderous Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) will not be held accountable for his crimes, she offers an additional reward in hopes of gaining the attention of the loose cannon US Marshall Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges). While the story may be familiar to even the most casual John Wayne fan, this is far from the Duke’s classic western and is considerably more faithful to the Charles Portis story.

To make a comparison to the 1969 classic or to call the 2010 version a remake would be folly. Both these movies may share similar source materials, but the intent of each couldn’t be more different. Where the Henry Hathaway directed version attempted to show John Wayne as a sort of anti-hero, it pulled punches and made attempts to appeal to the viewer. The Coen Brothers make no attempt to white wash the characters or settings in their vision of True Grit. Honestly, they don’t attempt to paint Rooster as a hero of any sort, anti or not. Instead, they just simply portray him as a man doing a job.

The Coen Brothers have never been ones to shy away from bucking the trends of Hollywood. They are true artist not just when it comes to visual presentation, but also at allowing the story to simmer and the plot thicken. Their ability to build tension until it boils over into a sometimes literal violent explosion shows a mature restraint that some filmmakers can only dream of possessing. In a world full of Michael Bays, it is easy to become calloused to all the kinetic action that bombards us as moviegoers.

Though there may actually be more talk of action than actually shown on screen, when the action does start it’s quick and unyielding. Like whiplash, you’re caught off guard and the impact leaves you dazed. In the showing I attended, there were actually gasps from the audience after a particularly brutal knife attack. While not as gory as trying to dispose of a body using a wood chipper, the image is still jarring none the less.

Jeff Bridges delivers yet another amazing performance, as if after all these years in show business he truly just doesn’t know how to phone it in. I believe that Bridges might be America’s best living actor and one of the greatest of all time. I have said it multiple times and each time it seems to be more the case. As Rooster Cogburn, he portrays a truly unlikeable character that wins you over with greasy charm. Either unafraid or uncaring, Rooster doesn’t attempt to hide his drinking and other shortcomings. Cogburn is a drunk and slightly dishonest man with a dark history. I actually found myself uncomfortable when his flaws reduced him from a larger than life hero to a drunken buffoon at one point in the movie. It was an honestly raw portrayal of the wild west “hero” the likes of which haven’t been seen since Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven.

All this makes the Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) into Cogburn’s perfect foil. Damon does a great job playing the other side of the law enforcement spectrum as a Ranger that takes his job and title very seriously, which makes him slightly unlikeable for completely different reasons. Though like Cogburn, you eventually come to enjoy his company as he develops as a character. Be it the writing or the performance, it’s amazing that you can come to like characters despite all their naked flaws. It all has a real world honesty about it.

Though in the end, what might be the most amazing part of this movie is Hailee Steindeld. In her feature debut, she shines brightly even when sharing the screen with multiple Academy Award winners. She is never lost in the bustle of gun play, dark humor and gritty realizations of the world around her. I doubt I will be the only one making this comparison, but I couldn’t help but think of Jodie Foster whenever Seindeld stamped her presence on each scene she appeared in. It is rare that a young actor is able to carry a film of this nature with their performance and it is breathtaking when it is accomplished with this level of ease. If she plays her cards right, I could see Steindeld being a major name in the future.

With the world being hung up on instant gratification like it is, this movie’s pace might be a little too slow for some people. Though if you have the patience and love a well told story, True Grit will reward you with a memorable western. Don’t be surprised if there are multiple Oscar Nominations for this film, including a possible repeat for Jeff Bridges. It’s beautiful, haunting and truly entertaining. By far one of the best movies to come out in 2010.

[xrr rating=4.5/5]

One Comment

  1. Posted December 28, 2010 at 8:06 pm | Permalink | Reply

    If not for Portman, I think Hailee Steindeld would be a lock for best actress. Mind blowing poise.

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