Thursday, December 23, 2010

Movie with Abe: True Grit

True Grit
Directed by Joel & Ethan Coen
Released December 22, 2010

It’s fair to say that the Coen brothers have made their mark on cinema. Over the course of twenty-five years and fourteen films, Joel and Ethan Coen have established a distinctive style of moviemaking, often instilling stories of quirky characters in dark, violent situations with considerable humor and wit. It’s easy to recognize something like “Fargo” or last year’s “A Serious Man” as a Coen brothers film due to the pensive pacing and foreboding tone, not to mention the often hilarious nature of the characters. It’s more difficult to find traces of their signature in their latest venture, the period western “True Grit.”

While the Coen brothers often do their best work when they use their own original ideas (look no further than “Fargo” for proof of that), they have demonstrated their versatility in the past with the Oscar-winning “No Country for Old Men,” adapted from the book by Cormac McCarthy. “True Grit” is based on the 1968 novel by Charles Portis, which was also the basis for a 1969 film staring John Wayne. It’s interesting to see how the Coen brothers work with concepts developed by others, though in this case, it would have been nice to see them put more of a stamp on their project.

It wouldn’t be right to say that “True Grit” is a bad movie. It’s a fine picture, but there’s simply nothing that makes it stand out. The dialogue doesn’t feel like it fits any of the characters, even if it does blend in more smoothly with their background settings. The productions values are strong but the cinematography isn’t as compelling as one might think for this kind of sweeping western. There are moments that present a glimpse of the Coen brothers ensemble potential, with familiar names like composer Carter Burwell and cinematographer Roger Deakins on hand as they have been for nearly every Coen brothers film, but they are few and far in between.

The story of Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), a fourteen-year-old girl who hires a drunken U.S. Marshal named Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to hunt down Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), the man who murdered her father, is simple enough. In truth, there’s not actually much to it, and that becomes apparent when the film comes to an end and all that’s transpired is a good deal of talking and a decent amount of shooting. A relatively thin story could have been couched and improved by some wondrous eccentricity on the part of the characters, but it’s just not there.

Bridges’ Cogburn is little more than a muttering drunkard whose stubbornness gets in his way more often than it proves helpful to him, and his role illustrates this film’s notion of good comedy as big and broad more than any other in the film. Steinfeld delivers an impressive, fast-talking performance as Mattie, but it’s never explained how she’s so learned and well-versed in every bit of knowledge about which two grown men have no knowledge. Matt Damon demonstrates continued proficiency with accents (following last year’s “Invictus”) as Texas Ranger LaBoeuf, and Barry Pepper stands out in a miniature role as villain Lucky Ned Pepper. In all, there’s not much to recommend “True Grit,” and the Coen brothers should consider a return to a subtler approach to the delicate balance between deathly serious drama and lighter comic moments.


1 comment:

Greg Boyd said...

I hope you're wrong about this one. I'm going to see it today, so we'll find out.

I really need to watch "Fargo".