Friday, December 31, 2010

True Grit (2010) – Review

True Grit is brutal, silly and really just a great western (with a bunch of Coen Brothers’ style thrown in). Westerns seem to be a dying breed in cinema – not only are few made, but even fewer are good (I can only think of six good westerns, from the last decade: Open Range, The Proposition, Broken Trail, 3:10 to Yuma, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and of course Deadwood). Thus, it is a real treat when a good one comes along. Writing-directing brothers, Joel and Ethan Coen, have taken a classic western story – men hunting down others for retribution of some sort, as seen in The Searchers and many others – and infuse it with their particular style, most notably in the dialog and performances they garner. The movie is silly, but not in a bad way. The characters, through the use of words and timing, come off as quite funny, which is a nice juxtaposition against some of the more graphic elements in the film, like the gun violence and terrifying nature of Mattie Ross coming face to face with the man who killed her father. The strange array of side characters and interchanges in the film also feel very much like a Coen Brothers’ film, and yet the film also feels like a classic western. This is the skill of the Coen Brothers – to both make it their own and in their style, but also stay true to the exalted genre (which is an important touch for fans of the genre and cinema, I think). The violence is also a necessary instrument in the film, because it makes the danger and drama real and striking – absolutely needed given the large about of humor and playful spirit amongst many of the characters. And a good western needs its shootouts – this film has a number of very good and well staged gunfights. The Coen Brothers get the genre right, but it is the characters and performances that make the film great. The audience is completely connected with Mattie Ross, the protagonist. She was vital to the success of the film, even more so than Rooster Cogburn, and the performance by newcomer Hailee Steinfeld is magnificent. However, the Coen Brother’s narrative style may confound some viewers, though it is nowhere near as prevalent (of exaggerated, if you will) as some of their other films. This does have a clear beginning and end, but the end has an escalating series of anticipated endings that may stymie the full impact and there is a epilogue that feels a bit unneeded, yet closes the characters well and rounds out the narration (plus the film has a beautifully short prologue with narration, it seems only right to have an epilogue, though the structure will not appeal to all). True Grit has all the elements of a classic western: the ugly bad guys, gunfights, campfires, heroes; but it is the Coens’ directing and performance that make this particular western special.

Technical and acting achievements: the Coen Brothers are among the best working directors. They use the same crew on every film, which enables them to have a clear overlapping style across their films. Their narrative style is unique, both enchanting fans and infuriating others. But certainly, cinema is better thanks to the Coen Brothers, and this is another great film in their catalogue. Their crew are also masters in their crafts – Carter Burwell’s score yet again compliments while standing out, Roger Deakins’s cinematography is beyond excellent in everything he shoots (the opening shot of the film is a clear case for how good he is) and Jess Gonchor’s production design is right on for the genre and story. The Coens and crew are always great, but with this story the characters and performances make the film. Barry Pepper has never been better in his supporting role and Josh Brolin is also very good in limited time creating a sort of bashful character, but terrifying in the same note. Matt Damon is really funny and charismatic and perfect in his role. Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld are the leads and standouts in the film; both are strong, funny and completely embody their characters (two of the best performances of the year).

True Grit is a fabulous western with wonderful characters. 9/10

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