Tuesday 15 February 2011

Review: True Grit

Year: 2010 (U.K release 2011)
Director: The Coens
Screenplay: The Coens
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Hailee Steinfeld, Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper

Synopsis is here

You never know what your going to get with the Coens, two of the most idiosyncratic directors of Americana. After my friends left True Grit (Based on the original novel and not the John Wayne movie), their response was strangely muted. With all the praise and props that the film's been getting they expected why more than they received. I can understand why. This appears to be the Coen brothers at their most conventional. One of my friends labelled it as "safe" which I don't agree with, but understand where he's coming from. What I admire about True Grit; is it's lack of irony or self -awareness. Something that The Coens do well. However; considering this film comes off the back end of A Serious Man, maybe the lack of irony is in itself an ironic gesture. Asking the brothers however will of course get you nowhere.

I admired True Grit and it's charms. It's a very simple and direct western with does what it says on the tin. Yes I'm a tad surprised at the amount of award plaudits it's received but such things shouldn't distract from what it is an entertaining movie coming from two directors just coming of a peak of creativity. Some may have been expecting another No country for old men, others may have been expecting something very overtly stylised (The Hudsucker Proxy perhaps). The Coens have merely created a formidable product. There's no creaky moments or real weaknesses (you could say it's a little slow at first) but there's not too much that stands out as "Coen", save the verbose dialogue (they have a knack for this detail) and one or two oddball characters that crop up within the story.

For the most part The Coen's stick to the point keep it's message clear and it's eye not only on the prize but it's characters. I'm quite surprised that despite the films rich pallette Roger Deakins' cinematography appears more focused on the grizzled and/or ugly faces that inhabit the vistas than the surroundings themselves. With this said  however this may have been because I was more carried away with the performances and how the prose was delivered than anything else. I have yet to see the original movie (brought but time has really got away from me) but much has been said about the performances by the 21 year Kim Darby and John Wayne who won his only Oscar for Rooster Cogburn. I'm very interested to watch and compare these performances to their modern counter-parts as I found very turn to be an effective one.

Bridges gives us a humorous, rambling, curmudgeon whose head is turned by the straight-forward and blunt talking Mattie Ross. Damon has finally cemented his place my hall of favourite working actors with yet another efficient performance but it's the compelling display by Hailee Steinfeld that is the revelation to me. It's a study and adult performance from such a young face and it deserves praise. It's easy to enjoy Bridges aimless talk and Damon's bravado but Steinfeld not only provides the counterbalance to the male posturing but as the viewpoint for the whole movie, she is brilliant. I was with her headstrong ways from the start and willing to follow her throughout the story. The relationship that grows between the three characters is a strong and natural one and while their motivations often slip or drift my appreciation for their admiration grew stronger.

True Grit is an entertaining piece which is more low-key than I expected. Never the less that doesn't deter the well of emotion I felt in the films last moments. The Coen's have provided a "normal" piece by their standards but one with some sly dry wit, a wonderful look, nice turns and a storyline that doesn't betray it's emotional duties later on.