Thursday, July 21, 2011

#143: True Grit (2010)


True Grit
Directed and written by Joel & Ethan Coen, based on the novel by Charles Portis
Released December 22, 2010

The brothers Coen have made their masterpiece of the "Western" film genre.

That masterpiece was No Country for Old Men.

Not to say that the Coen's "remake" of True Grit (their interpretation is supposedly based far more on the novel than on the film that earned John Wayne his first Oscar) isn't a good film; on the contrary, it is quite good. It's full of great performances and beautifully shot by director of photography Roger Deakins, whom I've lauded in these "pages" before as the shooter of such gorgeous and varied films as The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, The Big Lebowski, Jarhead, Sid and Nancy and more.

I am absolutely NOT panning True Grit. For lovers of Westerns, I definitely recommend it as a unique and nuanced take on the genre. I have no loyalty to the John Wayne version since I've never seen it, but the Coen's take is darkly humorous and even touching, especially in its final 15 minutes.

Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon are great. The real scene stealing comes from newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, who shows confidence beyond her years as Mattie Ross, a young girl seeking justice for the murder of her father at the hands of Tom Chaney, played by an underused Josh Brolin. One of my biggest problems with the film is that once Brolin's character finally appears, he's too buffoonish and cartoonish to create any sort of dangerous or ominous vibe. He's basically Wile E. Coyote with a funny voice.

(Speaking of funny voices, this entire film plays out like the Affected Voice Olympics.)

Chaney is part of a larger gang, lead by the underrated -- and almost unrecognizable -- Barry Pepper. I hate to say it, especially as a big Brolin fan, but the movie would have been served better by making Pepper the sole heavy. Brolin's Chaney is so comical and inept that he deflates the proceedings when he finally does appear.

I guess it's just far too easy for me these days to feel conflicted about a Coen Brothers movie. I put the men who have made some of my favorite films (Fargo, Raising Arizona, Miller's Crossing, The Big Lebowski) on a pedestal and I think it's a bit unfair of me to keep expecting a new all-time favorite every time they come out of the gates.

But, then again, isn't it okay to not always be wowed by the people you consider your favorites? I have no love lost for Wilco, but I have to be honest when I say their last couple of albums have been patchy. Sometimes your kid draws something that you don't feel like putting up on your refrigerator. It's okay.

For more on True Grit:
- Movie information at IMDB
and Wikipedia.
- The high-def trailer at YouTube.