True Grit: A Movie That Lives Up To Its Title

22 12 2010

A remake of the 1969 John Wayne film, which itself was based on the 1968 Charles Portis novel, True Grit is the Coen brothers’ reimagining of this Old West classic. Here’s the breakdown:

Fourteen year old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) is on a mission to bring her father’s murderer (Josh Brolin) to justice. Needing a guide to help her on her quest, Mattie hires a drunken, grizzled U.S. Marshal, Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges). Along the way, the duo joins forces with Texas Ranger, LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), entering a world of natural dangers and ruthless outlaws.

The Monkey: This is a Western, through and through. And thank god for that. If this had been a genre-bending attempt, an effort to sexualize or streamline or imbue some sort of modern, sleek action sensibility into a traditional Western model…it would have been unbearable. Thankfully, the Coen brothers know what they are doing, moving just the right pieces into just the right places and leaving well enough alone before anything gets too heavy-handed. Their direction is deft and the movie flows naturally.

As a writer, I gushed over the script. A truly sublime mix of Western dialect and Old World-isms, the dialogue is practically melodic. Never confusing, but always somehow foreign, credit must be given to the actors for doing this well-crafted script justice. Line after line roll of the tongues of the characters, doing just as much to build the world of True Grit as the costumes or the sweeping landscapes.

The talent is world-class, with Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld carrying the movie effortlessly. Jeff Bridges manages to toe the line of caricature without crossing it, delivering such a sincere performance I half-expect that he rides a horse and wears an eye-patch on a regular basis. While his drunken drawl is sometimes inarticulate, his characterization is razor sharp. Relative newcomer Hailee Steinfeld is getting her share of award season buzz herself, and for good reason. From Mattie’s opening scene at a bank(one of the best scenes of the movie, both in script-writing craft and acting), the audience is hooked; this girl knows what she’s doing and she’s going to do it well for all 110 minutes. Matt Damon surprises in his relatively minor role, allowing Bridges and Steinfeld to make the film their own. Brolin wasn’t given much to work with, resulting in a performance neither here nor there.

The Weasel: Whether this was in an attempt to stick close to the original film, or the book (I have to imagine it’s the latter), the film’s climax is rushed and head-scratching. Minor spoilers ahead! Just when you think the quest is at an end, the movie throws an ill-fated snake bite into the mix, followed in quick succession by a dead horse, a worn out Cogburn, a chopped-off arm and the end. Hmm. For a movie that reveled in slow and steady, the ending changed the pace rapidly, so late in the story arc, it was unsettling.

One of the best scripts this year, with award-worthy performances, True Grit is a wonderful example of quality filmmaking, sure to impress fans of the genre, the original and film in general. It’s utterly appalling that this film was completely ignored by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association for this year’s Golden Globes. I have to hope the Academy will rectify this mistake.

4 Death Stars out of 5

What do you think? Have you seen the original? How does it compare? Do you think True Grit was snubbed at the Golden Globes? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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7 responses

23 12 2010
scarletsp1der

Great review Dustin! I will agree that the end seemed rushed and the movie could have been extended by 20 mins or so to allow the ending to develop better. But I liked it, because even after the “goal of the movie” was reached, we were still intrigued and engrossed with the True Grit of the characters we had been following the entire time.

Great review, great movie!! 🙂

28 12 2010
Cassandra Okamoto

The end was SO weird to me too. & why would they just throw in that she never spoke to either of them again and rooster died right before she saw him? This whole movie was so depressing to me (but obviously just not my kind of movie – too much violence, etc.) but the dead horse & random chopped off arm just made me leave the theatre feeling angry

28 12 2010
Dustin

Yeah, it just seemed like a flurry of unnecessary events 😦 And it WAS depressing…poor horse!

29 12 2010
Andrea

I definitely agree that the climax was rushed and awkward – that would have been the best part of the movie for me but it moved too quickly onto the next sequence of events and turned into a buzz kill. I also agree with Cassandra – how sad is it that they never even saw each other again!! But if it’s true to the book we can’t complain I guess!

29 12 2010
Dustin

Yeah, I’m not sure how much of the movie was based on the book or the original film, as I have not seen/read either…makes me interested in both though! 🙂

30 12 2010
Doug

Well, this may get me to read the book…I guess I’m just a sentimental old fool, but, one quality I really liked about the John Wayne movie was that the John Wayne character was adopted into Mattie Ross family, even though from anything you learn from the film Rooster apparently only visits Mattie in Arkansas the one time. There was closure, there was a fulfillment to the bond that was formed.
In the current version, all the characters experienced together apparently didn’t drive any relationship after other than some correspondence which created a too little too late in the end. Now, that may be how book ended and is probably the more realistic ending per the time period where you just couldn’t get on the phone or hop into the car or send a friend request on facebook.
But, realistic as it may have been, it was kind of unsatisfying. Also, you can only conclude that the overall experience hardened the Mattie Ross character, that society was probably not easily accepting of a young woman missing a limb and you can see her character not really helping to ease that tension/situation along.

30 12 2010
Dustin

Thanks for the comment, and I agree…the ending didn’t deliver on the wonderful relationships previously established in the movie…and like you said, even if this is the more realistic ending, it doesn’t necessarily make it the best for audiences! 🙂

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