It says something rather wondrous about the Coen Brothers that with a 3-star, "B" rating that True Grit
is a bit of a disappointment, a surprisingly straightforward re-interpretation of Charles Portis's novel rather than an actual remake of Henry Hathaway's original film that was lighter, funnier and more entertaining than this gift for Portis purists. While John Wayne's Oscar win remains one of the Academy's more blatant examples of a "tribute" Oscar rather than an actual deserved Oscar win, Hathaway's film had the personality and spark that this film is sorely missing.
The Coen's True Grit
is a good film that could have used a bit of the Coen Brothers flare to help turn it into a stunningly good film, featuring solid performances from virtually the entire cast with the exception of one notable case of dreadful miscasting that will be discussed later in this review.
For those unfamiliar with the story, Mattie (newcomer Hailee Steinfeld) is a 14-year-old feisty young lady who hires Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to bring to justice the coward Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), a man who gunned down her father while under his employ. Chaney has headed off to Indian Territory with "Lucky" Ned Pepper (Barry Pepper, no relation) while a Texas ranger named LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) tails a bit behind and ultimately finds himself teaming up with Mattie and Rooster for a bit.
It likely bears repeating once again that there's nothing particularly "wrong" with True Grit,
which features the dependable cinematic eye of the always spot on Coen Brothers, the sparkling crisp camera work of Roger Deakins and an adapted original score from Carter Burwell that mixes both action and sentimentality quite nicely.
remains faithful to Portis's "Old West" speak, a stilted style of linguistics that may prove distracting for the more casual moviegoer and appears insurmountable for supporting player Matt Damon, who at times seems to be trying so hard to get the speaking style correct that he forgets about adding an actual character to the mix. Damon is, somewhat surprisingly, the weak link in a film that lacks anything resembling a tour-de-force but at least features a solid ensemble that for the most part seems comfortable with the way the Coen Brothers are going about things.
Jeff Bridges is, let's be honest, an obvious choice to take over the iconic role of Rooster Cogburn previously played by John Wayne. Cogburn is a mere variation of any number of characters that Bridges has played in the past or, for that matter, even this past year. Bridges plays Cogburn as a weathered man who has either taken a really awesome dump or is on the verge of doing so, sort of more frazzled Dude mixed in with touches of the faux paternalism portrayed in this month's Tron.
This is a role that Bridges could play in his sleep, and to his credit he's fully awake and invested for the majority of the film.
All the Oscar buzz surrounding Hailee Steinfeld is baffling, perhaps a sympathetic nod of good will towards the well liked Coen Brothers. While, again, there's certainly nothing "wrong" with Steinfeld's performance and it's certainly better than the movie's trailer would indicate, Steinfeld is no Kim Darby and beyond a proficient reading of the film's language and the admirable ability to stay in character (unlike Damon), Steinfeld doesn't add near the bad ass determination and attitude that Darby brought to the mix. While Steinfeld's Mattie tells us she's going after Tom Chaney whether Rooster wants her to come along or not, Darby had us all convinced that she'd head out into the Indian Territory on her own if she had to do so.
The film's best performance may very well go to one of its most secondary players, Barry Pepper as Ned Pepper, a consummate baddie whose nearly climactic scene with a riled up Mattie is one of the film's true delights. In what amounts to a brief appearance onscreen, Pepper gives solid voice to a character who is simultaneously charming, manipulative, compulsive and darkly humorous. Brolin is similarly given little to do as the coward Tom Chaney, though to his credit he manages to convince as someone who would have no problem killing this 14-year-old hellion.
During a holiday season when the MPAA seems to have been sipping a bit too much eggnog, it seems inexplicably weird that The King's Speech
garners an R-rating for muttering the F-word in one therapy scene multiple times while this film maintains a PG-13 rating while limbs are hacked off, action sequences are occasionally graphic and slo-mo and, well, the film just should have either received an R-rating or the MPAA needs to get a bit more consistent.
I know. I know. It's the MPAA.
Even my own beloved critic's organization, the Indiana Film Journalists Association, named Steinfeld the Best Supporting Actress and placed True Grit
comfortably in their Top 10 films of 2010. While the Coen Brothers never truly disappoint, True Grit
is one film that's getting by on their reputation and "buzz" alone. A good film that never flirts with greatness, True Grit
lacks, well, true grit.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic