Friday, December 31, 2010

"True Grit" (2010)

I saw another Oscar contending movie last night: "True Grit," the latest from the Coen Brothers, I'm a big fan of the Coen Brothers' movies, most particularly "Fargo" but "The Big Lebowski," "No Country for Old Men," and "Oh Brother Where Art Thou" are high among my favorites. I also liked "Blood Simple," "Barton Fink," "Miller's Crossing" and "A Serious Man." The only one I didn't like was "The Ladykillers." I also enjoyed the original "True Grit" (1969) the film in which John Wayne earned his only Oscar.

"True Grit" is the story of a 14 year old girl (13 year old newcomer Hailee Steinfeld) out to avenge the murder of her father by hiring drunken over-the-hill U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn, the John Wayne role now ably inhabited by Jeff Bridges (2009 Oscar winner for "Crazy Heart") to hunt him down and bring him to justice. The killer is played by Josh Brolin ("No Country for Old Men") who has linked up with Lucky Ned Pepper and his gang. Pepper (the underrated Barry Pepper) stands out among a stellar cast of actors which includes Matt Damon as a Texas Ranger also on the trail of the killer for another offense. Damon is great as the self-absorbed dandy. There are three stand outs in the movie: the Coen Brothers' meticulous casting, their adherence to the formalist prose of Charles Portis' original novel, and the wonderful Hailee Steinfeld as the plucky daughter on a mission Mattie Ross. She is worth the price of admission and worthy of her inevitable consideration for an Oscar for best actor, female (I try to avoid the diminutive 'actress').

The movie is a marvel throughout, for Roger Deakins' expressive and beautiful cinematography, Carter Burwell's moving score (both are Coen Brothers regulars) and for Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn. This is not just a wonderful western but a wonderful movie, and a worthy addition to the Coen Brothers canon. I was unprepared for the elegiac coda to the film in which the story is resolved far beyond the end of the original film. Poignant and hauntingly moving.

The original "True Grit" had two major faults (three if you count the casting of singer Glen Campbell): The first was John Wayne, simply because any movie starring John Wayne becomes a work of John Wayne iconography. Unavoidably. The second was casting a 22 year old (Kim Darby) to play 13 year old Mattie. Darby was good but Steinfeld is a revelation. four stars out of four.

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