#98 True Grit
(2010, Coen Brothers)
“You must pay for everything in this world, one way or another”
I like a lot of the earlier Coen Brothers stuff. You already saw my enthusiastic review of Fargo, and I thoroughly enjoyed The Big Lebowski. It’s such a shame, then, that I struggle to connect with anything they’ve done more recently. I wasn’t too impressed with No Country For Old Men, and that disappointment kind of extends to True Grit. It’s not a bad movie, in fact, it’s very good, but it just failed to catch my interest in any real way.
As you may or may not know, True Grit is a remake of the film of the same name from the 60s that starred John Wayne. I don’t know much about the original, so I won’t really be touching on it in any way for this review. Set in the Ol’ West, the story concerns Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), a 14-year old girl whose father was murdered by a hired hand named Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin). She is determined to get revenge, and recruits a Deputy US Marshall named Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), a grizzled old drunk, to assist her.
Now, there is plenty to praise the movie for. The set design is fantastic, the acting is top-notch, and the direction is solid, as to be expected from the Coens. Jeff Bridges’ performance in particular is hard to disagree with. He’s gruff and stern, but intensely likeable as a man who lives by his own rules. If I must criticise his performance, it’s the voice he chose to portray Cogburn with, a rough, haggard growl of voice that can sometimes be impossible to decipher.
It’s hard to even believe this is a remake. It has the Coens’ stamp all over it, despite drawing inspiration from a John Wayne movie. It even manages a few snippets of humour here and there, something that seemed noticeably absent from No Country For Old Men. And based on the kinds of films they’ve produced prior to this, it’s almost like their career’s been aiming for this film the whole time.
It’s such a shame that I didn’t really engage with the film. As good as the acting was, I just felt detached from everything that was going on. Everything was good on a technical level, but everything felt so flat and emotionless on the whole. I never really got a sense of real interaction from the characters, and I never really felt for Mattie’s loss of her father. This latter point is particularly harmful to the movie, since the entire plot hinges on it. I didn’t feel too sympathetic towards her, and as a result I didn’t particularly care for her desire to seek vengeance.
The pacing of the film’s a little off too, rushing straight into Mattie’s adventure, but then plods during the chase itself, often spending time on scenes that feel a little consequential or with characters who add little to what’s going on. I never really got a sense of tension that they were on the hunt for someone, and felt more like they were just going on a camping trip.
In fact, it’s hard to say anything else about True Grit. Ticks all the boxes, but it’s not all that memorable or enthralling.
Starring Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper & Hailee Steinfeld
Written by Charles Portis (novel) and Joel & Ethan Coen
Produced by Scott Rudin and Joel & Ethan Coen
Music by Carter Burwell
Cinematography by Roger Deakins
Edited by Roderick Jaynes
Favourite Scene: Cogburn drunkenly attempting to shoot bottles in an attempt to prove himself, only to be shown up by Matt Damon’s Texas Ranger
Scene That Bugged Me: The very nature of Mattie being brought into Tom Chaney’s camp. Surely she’d just be killed or something?
Watch it if: You’re a fan of the John Wayne original
Avoid it if: You prefer Fargo