Wednesday, January 12, 2011

True Grit (2010)

In a time when sequels and remakes are so largely bemoaned and debated, why is it a recreation of the iconic John Wayne western True Grit – the only movie for which the beloved actor ever won an academy award – is so widely anticipated, and subsequently appreciated?  Because it is a Coen Brothers film, of course, populated by the pedigree of Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and James Brolin, championed by execs, critics and audiences alike.  This updated take on True Grit is a film built to succeed, and succeed it does.

Like many of the hot topic cinematic remakes, True Grit is actually an adaptation, and one that stays truer to the novel than its cinematic predecessor. Whereas 1968’s Grit gave Wayne the spotlight as dilapidated US Marshal Rooster Cogburn, the Coens’ take is from the perspective of young Mattie Ross, the 14-year-old girl who hires Cogburn to track down her father’s killer. Mattie is a whip-smart, nail-tough woman in her own right, determined to find justice in the harshest of western ways – she wants Tom Chaney (Brolin) dead, and she wants to be the one who sees to it.

She hires Cogburn (this time around played by Bridges) because she’s heard he has true grit, even though all she sees is a true drunk. They’re joined by LaBouf (Damon), a cartoonish Texas Ranger who wants Chaney brought to harsh justice as well, if only for prosperity’s sake. Together they set out on an oddly formed yet traditional western quest, tracking the enemy into a perilous and unpredictable frontier as they venture fourth toward the everlasting battle of good vs. evil, as they so choose to understand it.

As a Coen film, Grit is certainly gritty, despite its PG-13 rating. And of course it offers strong characters played by talented actors working through complex dialogue and human intricacies. It is beautiful and quirky and confidently put together. But it is also one of their least ironic pieces and, in that tread, perhaps the least their own.

More than anything else, this is Mattie’s story, as conceived by novelist Charles Porter, and now brought to the screen by the brothers Coen. Their fingerprints are unmistakable, but their manipulation of the story is at minimal. Whereas Henry Hathaway’s 1969 film was molded through interpretation, taking liberties with the story (as most tend to do in an effort to make things cinematic, which is generally not a bad thing) and toning it down for mass consumption, The Coens stay particularly true to Porter’s work. This in turn creates something markedly different from Wayne’s film, and accentuates the disparity in our cinematic experience.

Of course, in order to do this they’d need to be blessed with an impeccable performance from a talented, equally-beyond her years youth, and they found that blessing in Hailee Steinfeld. Scarcely fourteen years of age at the time of filming, with only a few shorts and limited TV experience under her belt, Steinfeld musters up one of the year’s finest performances, by any man, woman or child. Bridges is great and Damon is strong, but it’s Steinfeld who makes this such a unique cinematic experience.

True Grit is one of the best films of the year. Make sure you see it before the largest awards are handed out in these next couple months.

1 comment:

The Bru said...

I can't wait for this to come out here. Well, I guess you knew that already ...


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