Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Weeks Too Late: True Grit

True Grit. Directed & Written by Joel and Ethan Coen.

Preconceptions: Well, it's been a while since there was a movie I wanted to see badly enough to pull myself out of torpor and go see it in the theater. Few directors inspire the unabashed glee that the Coens do (despite my lukewarm reaction to a Serious Man), plus I love Westerns.

General Review: I keep thinking that I like Jeff Bridges okay, but that he is an actor without a ton of range. I don't know why this idea has jammed itself into my head like so much trepaning needle, perhaps it's that I'll always think of him as the Dude from the Big Lebowski (the Coens may as well given the line about Cogburn abiding). True Grit is just another reason why I should remember he's an excellent actor that I enjoy watching (so I'm certain I'll have forgotten by the time this posts). Cogburn was overall likable, utterly reprehensible and not at all the cartoon that the anti-hero has become. And while credit is certainly due to the writing, Bridges also gets a whole pile of credit chips. All the main actors deserve some, while I'm giving away praise. Hailee Steinfeld played a believably strong, but not super human 14 year old girl (Mattie Ross). Seeing events unfold from her perspective was a directorial choice that worked beautifully. Finally, Matt Damon was wonderful as the buffoonish but dogged LaBoeuf. He played comedy of the the over-starched extremely well.

It's telling that, for a change, I spent the entire movie rooting for the good guys. Too often it's the black hats that are layered, interesting, and lets face it, sexy characters. Not the case in True Grit. The heroes were entertaining and insightful characters and the baddies were grotesque and savage (a tip of the hat to Josh Brolin and Barry Pepper for their displays of brutishness)

The directing (to no one's surprise) was a cut above. There was enough of the Coen's signature surreality that I knew instantly whose movie I was watching, but it didn't overwhelm the sensibilities of the story.
This was a movie that knew how to keep my interest when there weren't fights going on (unlike certain
other recent Westerns I could name). The characters and dialogue were more than compelling enough to keep me engaged. I don't need to insult the Coens by mentioning that this was more than competently directed. The barren setting was gorgeously shot, particularly the starry sky sequence (you'll know it when you get to it) and I wasn't once confused or given motion sickness by the cinematography. And on a slightly feminist note, it was nice to see a strong, young female lead who managed to be tough without needing superpowers or being ridiculous.

As a hard boiled critic with nothing to lose, I'm loathe to say that a movie is without flaws. Even a movie that was practically made with me as its target demographic isn't entirely safe from my anonymous internet claws. With everything else being so well constructed, I was surprised by the blandness of the score. It was slightly too bombastic during the fight scenes and utterly forgettable for the rest of the movie. It could have been put behind any big budget movie of last year and it would have fit in just fine. It was generic and could be interchanged with any other uninspired score.

True Grit was well worth leaving my Netflix dungeon and venturing out into a theater. It was nearly two hours long, but the time simply wooshed by. The acting, writing and directing were all a remarkably high calibre. Even if Westerns aren't exactly your thing, I think you'll dig it.

Aside: I'm not sure if it's a common thread in many Westerns, or just something I've noticed in the last few I've seen, but jeeze louise, they like saying the title of the movie in the movie.

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