Sunday, January 16, 2011

Review: True Grit (2010)


I think I like Westerns.  This is sort of news to me since during most of my young adulthood they were sort of out of fashion and I never bothered to watched many of the classics.  However I have seen a few of the ones produced during this past decade.  The 3:10 to Yuma remake was pretty good…until the ending when it all went to hell, of course.  I also really liked Appaloosa so now I tend to get excited when a new Western comes out (I also like the video game Red Dead Redemption, though that’s beyond the scope of this blog).  True Grit is the latest Western to be crafted by Hollywood.  It shares a name with the old John Wayne film but it seems that rather than a remake it’s more like a new adaptation of the original novel by Charles Portis.  Weirdly this movie is directed by Joel & Ethan Coen and I say “weirdly” because I was able to watch the whole movie without being made to feel depressed with the trademark black humor and general disdain for all things pleasant and happy.  Seriously when I saw No Country for Old Men and Burn After Reading I was left an emotionally drained husk of a man.  Well I can say that this film avoids that trap.
As you may already be aware due to my Top Ten Movies of 2010 list I am rather fond of this film.
[WARNING: This review contains minor spoilers]
14-year old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) has arrived in Fort Smith, Arkansas to recover the body of her murdered father but soon aims to bring his killer, Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), to justice.  After managing to get a good chunk of money to work with she sets off to hire a US Marshal of true grit to help her track down and capture, or possibly kill, the murderous Chaney who has reportedly gotten involved in with a notorious gang.
True Grit is basically two hours of this
This film is funny, full of violence and has a bittersweet ending at best so in that regard it very much is a movie by the Coen Brothers, but it’s a straight Western.  It’s not some novel genre blend or a deconstruction: it’s a good old fashion cowboy flick that was clearly lovingly made.  Unlike several of their other films it doesn’t end abruptly or heartbreaking: it’s a very satisfying ending for what we saw.  So in a lot of ways this is my favorite film of theirs, including The Big Lebowski and O’ Brother, Where Art Thou?
Speaking of The Dude I should point out that Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn is better acted and probably a better character than Jeff Bridges as Kevin Flynn.  So if you can only take so much of the guy in short span of time I’d say pick this movie over Tron: Legacy (Although that movie is not nearly a terrible as people have been saying).  Bridges plays drunk old bastard surprisingly (?) well. But, despite what the advertisements would have you believe, he is not the star of this film; Haliee Steinfeld is.  Her film debut this young girl, thirteen at the time of shooting apparently, knocks it out of the park.  She is by far the most interesting actor in the film playing the extremely complex Ross perfectly.  As I once said about Chloë Grace Moretz if she stays clean and away from the Jazz & Liquor she’ll likely be a force in Hollywood in the coming years.   For some horrifyingly stupid reason she has been nominated for many awards of "Best Supporting Actress”.  What the hell is wrong with you, Hollywood?  Did you actually see this film?  She’s clearly the protagonist of the movie, how is she supporting anyone?  She should be up for Best Actress all the way down the line, you fools!  The Oscars have yet to be announced as of this writing but if Steinfeld isn’t given he proper nod than I may lose all faith in the Academy.  Long story short she has an extremely difficult role, an ornery young girl who is clearly older than her yeas, and she plays it extremely well.  One of the best debuts I’ve ever seen.
The whole cast is very good, not just the actors but the characters themselves are a great ensemble with pretty memorable folks.  Brolin is fine as Tom Chaney but he’s really hardly in this film.  Honestly he was no better or worse than Barry Pepper as Lucky Ned (Which is still very good) who is in the movie for about as long but doesn’t appear on the billing.  Weird.  If there’s a weak link it's Matt Damon but the more I think about it the more I’m convinced that it’s not him but rather that his character LaBoeuf is kind of dull, especially next to the large than life Rooster Cogburn.  Still he’s not bad but he does feel like he’s taking screen time away from the other two main characters at times.
One of these people is a mean, ill tempered so and so
The other is named "Rooster"
The story isn’t anything real deep, it’s just a typical “Fugitive went that-a-way, let’s go wrangle him up” plot.  What sets it apart is the strong characters and the humor.  The Coen Brothers are known for their black comedy and it certainly shows up here.  Mostly the comedy is driven either by Rooster’s grizzled/drunken escapades or Mattie’s shrewish yet polite nature (You best not make her mad.  She has a good lawyer).  This isn’t a comedy but it helps keep this potentially dark tale accessible.   The epilogue was a bit heart-wrenching but nothing compared to some of the Coen’s other works.  The dialogue was clever and fun, but again that’s something that the directors are known for so it’s likely not surprising.  I could see this film being nominated for Best Film or Best Adapted Screenplay at this year’s Oscars.  I really liked the locations this movie was filmed on as well.  The towns looked very authentic as well, not that I’d know.  Same can be said about the costumes.  So all in all the art direction looks mighty fine.
As for what the film does wrong…well, there’s a fat dude who keep making gross animal noises.  He kind of sucks.  But he gets shot so it all works out.  That’s it.  That’s the only negative thing I can think of to say about this movie.
Despite what everyone seems to be saying SHE IS THE STAR
I find this movie as close to flawless as movies tend to be.  Great characters, great dialogue, great acting, and an ending I can wrap my head around and no obvious flaws; that’s the formula of a movie that I consider among the best.   I couldn’t have enjoyed this film more.  Forget being the most enjoyable Western I’ve ever seen; this is one of my favorite movies of the year.  I strongly recommend this movie to any and everybody because, unlike Inception or Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, there’s nothing about it that should alienate audiences: no complex science fiction elements or bizarre comic elements.
I give True Grit 5 Adorable Pandas out of 5

Pros
-Great acting from the cast
-A great cast of characters
-Amusing dialogue
-A good amount of gun fighting
Cons
- Hailee Steinfeld has apparently been demoted to second banana during Award Season

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