Wednesday, 23 February 2011

FILM REVIEW: True Grit


You can never go wrong with the Coen Brothers. I think everybody has their favourite (culturemouse's is No Country For Old Men), but whatever you secretly favour you can't dispute the sheer class and quality of such a film. They truly are a modern tour de force of cinema - a style of filmmaking (and humour) so unique it can't pass by anyone unnoticed. They sell tickets. What a shame then that by its enjoyment and impressiveness alone True Grit doesn't feel so obviously part of the Coens showcase catalogue.

It's a proper Western, no doubt about that - a genre I never really knew I liked until sitting through The Assassination of Jesse James and the aforementioned No Country For Old Men in succession a few years ago. The Western symbolised an infuriating drone on a Sunday afternoon, in the cocoon of a room with the lingering dread of Monday morning school just around the corner (I hated Sundays until I discovered fast cars). It's also a genre I associate only with dads, because that's just how it is, a stereotypical truth. And True Grit is actually a re-make of one of those such Westerns - the 1969 version with star cowboy at the time, John Wayne which in turn was an adaptation of the Charles Portis novel about a young girl who sets out to avenge her father's death by seeking out his murderer in the wild and killing him - with the help of a couple of ego-clashing marshalls.

It's powered by this great story - and aided by so many great touches which elevate the action sequences: the strangely charged relationship between LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) and Mattie (Hailee Steinfeld); the petty squabbling and chidlike behaviour of the adults, the way the man villain Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) is actually pretty incompetent, and a whiny pitiful character. These things actually work in favour of the Coens, who never take anything as predictable and straightforward - they like their little quirks, and make sure to include those mentioned in the books whilst flying free with some of their own. But the action is just as good - nail biting stand offs, double crossing, fighting the environment around them - the whole thing just zooms by while you're sat immersed in the drama unfolding.

It's also heavily character driven - and each one is a joy. Jeff Bridges, back with the Coens after The Big Lebowski goes from the Dude to the Duke, and is brilliant to watch in his drunken stupors, his rambling arguments, and his wry sense of humour - one of the best scenes of the film has to be him proving himself a decent shot while drunk to LaBoeuf as he throws food clumsily up in the air and swings his gun haphazardly yet still managing to blindly hit the mark with remarkable precision. Josh Brolin and Matt Damon are also good in their respective roles - Damon particularly boyish in his Texas Ranger boasting. Hailee Steinfeld is the star of the show however, astonishingly good for her age and acting the part with so much charisma, strength and an authentic vulnerability. Her bond with the Duke is particularly enjoyable to watch, and the pay-off and emotional climax at the end is very satisfying.

But just as things as going so nicely it ends on rather a nothing note. The epilogue takes away all of that satisfaction and leaves you feeling slightly unmoved by the whole experience. There's something I can't put my finger on - because it's very funny and easy on the eye - that is distinctly un-Coen-esque about the film which means it falls more into the traditional Western genre than standing out as something a bit different. It doesn't have that special something that No Country For Old Men carried establishing it as a classic of its time. Perhaps its because they are stuck within the parameters of a novel and can't fully stretch their legs.

Thoroughly entertaining, and Hailee Steinfeld is quite a find - she'll be making a big name for herself in the future (and already as an Academy Award nomination under her belt). But True Grit is not the Coens' best, and the high expectations are stilted somewhat. Still, a must-see at the cinema, and actually, a great way into the offbeat world of the Brothers if you've yet to meet them in a dark auditorium before.


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