29 December 2010

First Impressions: True Grit

It's hard to say what to think of this flick. It's a Coen film with minimal twists, a straightforward narrative, minimal swears and violence and a lack of ambiguity. Does this detract from the experience? I suppose I'm not used to a good Coen Flick that lacks convoluted plot twists, an unconventional screenplay and unrelenting, sometimes shocking or surprising violence. While I've come to expect this from the brothers, they of course refuse to let themselves to be pinned even to a style or directing expectation. That said, I have swallowed the fact that a Coen Film need not be outrageously out of control to remain excellent.

Now, of course I have not read the novel, nor have I seen the original 1969 version with John Wayne. But I HAVE read the Wikipedia articles and I saw the Duke's trailer. So naturally I consider myself an expert in these matters. True Grit (2010) is very authentic to its source material, and along with No Country for Old Men (2007) may establish the duo as the best Adapters in Hollywood. Really they just follow the book, page for page, line or line, but manage such verisimilitude across mediums that seem to escape most other filmmakers. So much of No Country involves these long meditating shots across landscapes, dead mexicans, etc, visuals to set tone and mood perfectly that it's tough to imagine reading it on the page. Grit is less in love with its setting, but still has a very distinctive visual tone, from the discovery of a body hung high up in a tree to setting up various sniper spots and providing a good feel for the cold and loneliness of the West.

Now, it's also got its fair share of Coen Quirky Dialogue, primarily spouting out the mouth of Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) in the first act. The girl actually does a great job of not being annoying, a compliment I will not afford Kim Darby in the original. She's got spunk, confidence and shows just the right amount of naivete while attempting to mask it in her most dire situations. It's believable this chick could set out on her own without fear.

Now, Josh Brolin is in this film a whole three minutes and doesn't provide much personality despite other characters long setting up his character as a violent, crafty, uncatchable motherfucker. He's just kind of a grumpy, dumb little man who is low on his gang's totem pole. This really indicates that Mattie and Rooster's quest is more about finding themselves than finding Chaney (cute, no one has ever thought that before). I was actually expecting Damon to be horribly miscast, but he's decent as Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (long lost ancestor of Shia). LaBoeuf tries hard and isn't really as incompetent as Rooster decries him. His character is something more substantial than Rooster, and I like how much they actually work together behind Mattie's back.

In general the film does a good job of following the girl's story rather than glorifying the coolness of Rooster Cogburn (as cool as he is), something the Duke's version lacked. The important thing to remember about True Grit (1969) is that it was really just 1) an excuse to film John Wayne play a hilarious drunk, 2) an excuse to give John Wayne a long-deserved Oscar (see also Scorsese) and 3) an attempt to place John Wayne in a more "Eastwood"-like Western. It's honoured because of all these reasons but that trailer didn't look so great. The Coen Brothers placed the story in its original context and executed magnificently.

Now, I must mention Jeffey Bridges, because ultimately you and I both saw this to see what the Dude could do. Switching eye-patches and growing a beard to differentiate himself completely from the Duke, the Dude delivers. He's craggly, grumpy, drunk and sells the old and fat better than John Wayne could. I'm probably treading on someone's Holy Ground with all this but I'll stick with my guns. He's a Best Actor Winner, too. I'm also just enjoying watching him between this and Tron: Regacy (2010) in back-to-back weeks. But he definitely captures your attention in Grit, that little Bridges chuckle he rocked in The Big Lebowski (1998) shines through in a few scenes as does his affinity against youthful nonsense (see um...Stick It [2006]?). He's got a style all his own. I'm not sure why but I really enjoy watching old people in cinema who no longer really care about the world. He's not unlike Clint in Gran Torino (2008) the way he disdains most of the world around him but eventually finds someone worthwhile to latch on to. Someone who unexpectedly emulates his own lofty standards. It's pretty cool and provides a good ride along the way.

So Brad Pitt doesn't get shot in the face, Steve Buscemi isn't fed to a Woodchipper and there's no pounding Grace Slick vocals. Nonetheless, True Grit is a welcome addition to the Coen Library, tho still probably their most straightforward story. In fact they basically blow this article to shit.

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