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Movie Review – True Grit
With True Grit, the Coen Brotehrs play a genre for the first time in their long and exemplary career, but when it comes to the Coens, even outright westerns undergo a transformation.
14-year-old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) has lost her father and the law of the land is too lazy and too busy to hunt down the runaway killer Ton Chaney (Josh Brolin). Mattie takes care of her father’s business, arranges his funeral, but won’t go home until Chaney meets justice. So she decides to enlist the services of U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) simply because he’s the most ruthless.
She approaches him but Rooster ignores the teenager. While she tries to convince Rooster, the Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) offers to team up because he is also on Chaney’s trail. She refuses LaBoeuf’s offer but to her dismay the two men take off without telling her and decide to split the reward. Rooster is keen on catching Chaney and doesn’t care where he tried, but Mattie doesn’t want it any other way and tells the men she will kill Chaney once they catch him. Following a misunderstanding, LaBoeuf goes his own way and Mattie finally comes face to face with her father’s killer. She looks over her shoulder for Rooster, but a hungover rooster is no match for Chaney who, along with Lucky Ned (Barry Pepper), takes Mattie hostage. Would Rooster, the man they say have real courage, manage to keep his word given to a 14-year-old who trusted him?
Rather than keeping things black and white like most classic Westerns end up doing, the Coen Brothers keep their version of True Grit very true to the book and very real. At its core, True Grit wouldn’t have worked as wonderfully as it does without Hailee Steinfeld’s very believable performance. She brings a certain sense of boldness to Mattie Ross that makes you want to root for her.
The original True Grit might be remembered largely for John Wayne’s histrionics, but Jeff Bridges offers his own towering take. There are places where you can’t understand what the hell says Rooster thanks to the crazy southern streak Bridges has, but the nonchalance with which he portrays the larger-than-life Cogburn makes it hard not to love him.
Matt Damon’s restrained LaBoeuf is the weakest performance of the lot and let’s just say your fears that it would be hard to imagine Damon playing a Western character weren’t entirely incorrect. Josh Brolin as fugitive Tom Chaney has a mesmerizing effect, as does Barry Pepper as Lucky Ned.
The Coen Brothers films are nothing short of great cinema in the truest sense of the word, but True Grit is a visual treat that ends up being an unforgettable experience. Roger Deakins’ superior cinematography has brought many of the Coen brothers’ films to life, but True Grit is Deakins’ shining hour. Just as the brothers take storytelling to a level only a few can even dream of, a picture of Roger Deakins is usually worth a million words and you have to see True Grit to know what the visuals are capable of.
Much like No Country For Old Men, True Grit burns slowly. While No Country For Old Men hits you like a bullet early on, True Grit takes its time to work its way into your mind. The film is not the western you are used to; no way. With the Coens, even the phone book can turn into something magical. Most of the time, you don’t even notice how True Grit sucks you in; you happily follow along and may also lose interest in places, but suddenly there comes a time when the drama unfolding before you sucks you into its world and there is no turning back.
The final 20 minutes of True Grit is where it all comes together in a way you least expect. The film might not work for some viewers as it’s not fireworks in the conventional sense, but watch it nonetheless and be mesmerized.
Rating: 3 ½ out of 5
Cast: Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Hailee Steinfeld, Josh Brolin and Barry Pepper
Written by: Joel and Ethan Coen based on the book True Grit by Charles Portis
Directed by: Joel and Ethan Coen
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