True Grit

Hailee Steinfeld is Mattie Ross and Jeff Bridges is Rooster Cogburn in The Coen Brothers' rehash of TRUE GRIT.

True Grit has just about gotta be the most un-ironic thing the Coen Brothers have ever conjured.  The Coens have explored the landscapes (No Country for Old Men) and themes (law and order in Fargo and the “man on the run” in Raising Arizona) of Westerns before, but this is their first stone-cold stab at the genre.  They’ve done remakes before, too, lest we forget the travesty of The Ladykillers.  Yet it is here where they play it completely straight and deliver a polished, hard to dislike, feature film liquored-up with top shelf quality right down the line.

Sure, there’s Coen-esque humor here and there, but the humor was present in the John Wayne original and presumably in the Charles Portis penned novel upon which both are based.  The Coens do a magnificent job with the screenplay that features stand-out voice-over work (especially in the wonderfully composed opening scene) and authentic-sounding dialogue that never reaches the impenetrable antiquated verbosity of an episode of Deadwood.  Resident cinematographer Roger Deakins and composer Carter Burwell do a bang up job in their respective roles, achieving in this western what Sonnenfeld and Burwell achieved in the gangster film Miller’s Crossing, which some twenty years ago found the young Coens at their most un-ironic.

And then we have the cast.  Jeff Bridges apparently stumbled right off the set of Crazy Heart and simply traded his guitar for a six-shooter to play Rooster Cogburn.  He wisely doesn’t attempt a John Wayne impersonation, and instead with his gruff-voice and grizzled appearance, makes the role his own.  Meanwhile, Matt Damon takes full advantage of working for the Coen Brothers by speaking with a mangled tongue for half his scenes, a quirky little piece of self-indulgence that works wonderfully.  Finally, there’s Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross, who gives an assured, stern but heartfelt performance as the young girl who hires Rooster Cogburn to track down the man who killer her father.  Hers ranks behind Jennifer Lawrence’s turn in Winter’s Bone for breakthrough performance of the year.

True Grit is a film seemingly without fault.  Yet there it just is – confident, surprisingly kind, beautifully photographed and scored, colorfully acted, flawlessly directed.  It’s more of a master class in how to film a Western or a remake than it is a powerful piece of cinema in its own right.  It’s as much a throwback to the Coens of Miller’s Crossing as it is a testament to their maturity as filmmakers.  These boys always had a lot of gumption.  Grit, you might say.  Often accused of being consummate poser-filmmakers, well-studied and dressed-up all pretty-like but lacking authenticity, them boys might have finally proved dem fellers wrong.  Or maybe they’ve just proved that like all great auteurs, they’ve never really changed expect now they have bigger stars, bigger budgets and a closet full of awards behind them.  With True Grit they seem to be telling their audience and critics alike, you can take it or leave it.  I reckon I’ll take it like it is.

Written by David H. Schleicher

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7 comments on “True Grit

  1. Dianne Glave says:

    Kinda torn. Saw an 11am show. Will think on it.

    Dianne…hmmm…interested to hear your thoughts. –DHS

  2. Bob Collins says:

    I was originally upset that this iconic western would be remade by anyone. My rule of thumb is that you don’t remake the good movies. You remake the good scripts that failed in their execution. (This does not include remaking silent movies after sound came along. That’s a different conversation.) But given that Hollywood and Broadway don’t have two ounces of original creativity between them anymore, all they can do is remake movies and turn dumb movies into dumber Broadway plays. It’s hard to believe that the Henry Hathaway/John Wayne “True Grit” is 41 years old. I was 13 when I saw the original in a theatre and sometimes it just doesn’t seem like that much time has passed. I had forgotten that the Coen’s have remake experience until Dave reminded me of “The Ladykillers”.

    I went into this movie with as much of an open mind as possible. I loved every frame of it. True Grit was the first real novel I ever read. The 2010 version like the 1969 production had all of the nuance of the book. The speech patterns, everything. The performances are terrific. It looks beautiful, and in fact the Coens improve on the 1969 movie by shooting their picture in CinemaScope. The John Wayne version was shot “flat” so the picture, with all of that outdoor ambiance, was never as wide and vista filled as it should have been.

    Is it me, or did Barry Pepper, as Ned Pepper, sound just a little like Robert Duvall, who played Ned Pepper in the Wayne version?

    I loved this movie. It’s one of those pictures you come out of and say, this will be in my library at home.

    Bob, glad to hear you liked it. It’s hard not to be won over. –DHS

  3. DeeDee says:

    Hi! D.H. Schleicher…

    What a very well-written, straight to the point review…the following words… D.H. Schleicher said,”True Grit is a film seemingly without fault. Yet there it just is – confident, surprisingly kind, beautifully photographed and scored, colorfully acted, flawlessly directed.…along will send me to seek this film out to watch…

    …Unfortunately, I have never watched the original version Of “True Grit”…Therefore, I must seek the original version out in my mother’s DVD Library since she own all of his (John Wayne) films.

    On a personal note, I’am not a big” fan Of western and war films. However, I will watch films from both genre(s) from time to time.
    Thanks, for sharing!

    By the way, I linked this review over there on Sam Juliano’s blog…Therefore, I’am assuming that it’s safe for me to place the Coen’s film True Grit in the film noir (neo-noir) category.
    Review “True Grit” Film noir Remake

    DeeDee ;):)

    DeeDee – hmmm…I’m not sure about that review. I really wouldn’t classify this film as noir just because it was directed by the Coens, who are well-versed in noir. It was a pure Western…dark, yes, but dark doesn’t necessarily mean noir. –DHS

  4. Sam Juliano says:

    Dee Dee: Great idea to link David’s review over at WitD!

    Well, this is a sensible and hard to dispute verdict, David, as logical as one’s prospective perceptions of TRUE GRIT. It’s expertly made with yeoman contributions from Deakins and Seinfeld (yes ‘breakthrough’ for sure with Jennifer Lawrence) and a technical improvement on the 1969 film (though Hathaway’s film arguuably provides viewers with a stronger emotional investment with John Wayne’s Rooster) You are telling when you suggest the film is expertly made but by and large “un Coens.” I agree completely with that point, and that’s what differentiates an exceptional film (as this one is) with a masterpiece (which this falls short of).

  5. Hi! D.H. Sch-lei-cher and Sam Juliano…

    Sam Juliano said, “Dee Dee: Great idea to link David’s review over at WitD!”

    Sam, unfortunately, I didn’t link back to D.H. Schleicher’s review of the Coen’s film “True Grit” on your website.

    Instead, I linked to the Examiner review (on your blog) that I linked here on D.H. Schleicher’s blog.

    Cont…

  6. DeeDee says:

    Hi! D.H.Schleicher…
    “it was a pure Western…”

    David, here goes another link… Screencrave and Ethan Coen

    …to an interview which was featured on the Examiner website with Ethan Coen…What is strange about this interview is the fact, that Coen, don’t even think that their version of True Grit is even considered a western.

    D.H. Schleicher said,”DeeDee – hmmm…I’m not sure about that review. I really wouldn’t classify this film as noir just because it was directed by the Coens, who are well-versed in noir. It was a pure Western…dark, yes, but dark doesn’t necessarily mean noir.”

    On a personal note, I would classify this film as a film with elements of a neo-noir based on two things:

    The opinions of the men and (women) on a film noir message board that I usually frequent and whether author Eddie Muller, feature this film on his website..Forget about it…I will consider the film a neo-noir if it’s featured on his(Muller’s) website.

    According to the film noir aficionados and novice(s) on this film noir message board the darkness usually occurs mentally, or In other words, the darkness occurs inside the characters “head(s)” and by their actions (and most definitely, deeds)…I don’t think the tradition elements have to be present in order to qualify a film in this case as a neo-noir.

    D.H. Schleicher, please keep in mine this is only my opinion.

    D.H. said, but dark doesn’t necessarily mean noir.”
    Yes, I know…
    DeeDee 😉 🙂

    DeeDee – LOL – But of course the Coens would claim they didn’t make a Western…they have always tried to prove to people that they didn’t do what they actually did. If their True Grit is indeed not a Western, then that means one of two things:

    1. I don’t know what a Western is (hmmm…possible maybe)
    2. The Western genre is purely mythical and has not and will not ever actually exist (not likely)

    I would reckon it’s a Western…with…ok…ok…wait for it…noirish elements. And the Coens are having a laugh at our expense yet again.

    –DHS

  7. Sebastian says:

    I at first couldn´t see any point in doing that kind of a remake, especially from the Coens- also had no pleasure in Ladykillers- but anyway, who am I to judge. Haven´t seen it yet and will think about it- probably wait until the next one. Thanks for the review though, have a good one and come by the blog I´m writing for if you like:
    http://blog.movielocker.com/
    Cheers,
    Sebastian

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