Fight Film Friday: True Grit

Posted: December 31, 2010 in fight film friday
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True Grit
USA, 2010
Genre: Action, Western, Drama
110 minutes

The Coen brothers direct this remake of the classic John Wayne film, where a headstrong young girl employs a gritty US Marshal to hunt down her father’s killer.

In their second Western adaptation since No Country for Old Men, the Coen brothers update the John Wayne classic True Grit, setting a much darker and serious tone to the film compared to the original. Backed by a powerful score, the cinematography really captures the sense of scope and adventure of the untamed wilderness. Their direction is superb, remaining true to the novel and yet resonating with a modern audience. While the story itself is a little simplistic, and the ending a bit awkwardly paced, it’s the dialogue and actors that make this film amazing to watch. The script is incredibly funny, offsetting the otherwise very dark undertones of the rest of the movie, helped along by the brilliant performances of Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, and newcomer Hailee Steinfeld. Steinfeld deserves every ounce of praise she gets, this being her first major film role and doing an outstanding job despite being only 14 years old. Why she was nominated only for Best Supporting Actress instead of Leading Actress in several award shows I’m not sure, but hopefully she’ll be on deck for the Oscar in the coming year.

Not to be outdone, the more established names of the picture bring their best game as well. Jeff Bridges as Marshall Cogburn is equal parts bad ass and buffoon, yet he ties the two together so well that one can hardly tell when the switch happens. Just as entertaining was Matt Damon as Texas Ranger LaBoeuf, also after the same bounty. Damon, Bridges, and Steinfeld all have wonderful chemistry on screen, giving a deep sense of character to the film. Josh Brolin as Tom Chaney, the elusive target for the trio, makes a regrettably short appearance in the movie, despite his high billing. All of the characters, but Brolin’s in particular, have a strange practice of speaking right on the nose, leaving little room for subtext or insinuation. While not exactly a misstep in the Coen brothers’ direction, it is certainly different and a little odd to hear people speak so directly and almost formally. I’m not sure if this is a practice of historical speech, how the dialogue was written in the book, or both, but it does take some getting used to. Still, the unusual speech pattern here or there doesn’t detract from the performances themselves, which were almost universally fantastic.

The Coens are no stranger to blood in their films, and they don’t shy away from it here. The shootouts are a bit few and far between, but when it gets going it really punctuates the preceding tension. There are a couple tried and true Western homages both to the Wayne film and the genre as a whole, but they fit in well with the rest of the movie, and add to the experience of a modernized Western. True Grit is truly a worthy adaptation, and is one of the best films to come out this year.

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