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True Grit (2010)

January 4, 2011

7/10 Dead-Eye Dudes

Better than the original, but still awfully familiar.

True Grit is about a feisty teenage girl who hires an alcoholic, one-eyed marshal to help her track down the low-down, dirty sonofabitch who killed her father in cold blood. After scrounging up the necessary fee and adding a second marshal to the hunt who’s also eyeing that reward money for the said daddy killer, the unlikely trio sets off into the countryside with rifles loaded and justice on their mind.

So that’s the same synopsis I wrote up for the original True Grit because while the cast and crew may be different some 40 years later, there’s not a whole lot else that’s really changed. All the same, let’s start with the improvements.

At this point, the Coen brothers could put out a shot-for-shot remake of Battlefield Earth and it would probably win eight different Oscars it wasn’t even nominated for. Their careers speak for themselves, they deserve every ounce of credit that comes their way, and they do a swell job behind the camera here even if it doesn’t have the same kind of personal touch you’d find in something like Raising Arizona. The shootouts aren’t on par with watching Anton Chigurh run around town with a silenced shotgun in tow and the first Act does feel kinda rushed, but by the same token, it seems kinda stupid to gripe about the Coens these days or any day for that matter. These guys know what they’re doing.

So when I heard that they were adapting this movie directly from the novel instead of the John Wayne version, that made me happy. The tone of the original was too cheery, same goes for the dialogue, and Wayne could have been a much bigger sonofabitch. Luckily, the Coens have pretty much fixed all that…for the most part.

The dialogue still balances between prim-and-proper and sharp-tongued, but this time around it leans noticably more on the latter end of things and it’s nice to not have our one-eyed marshal calling his pint-sized sidekick “Baby Sister” at every opportunity. This is a huge improvement and makes the overall tone that much tougher and fitting for a story that needed it. It’s also got a pretty good sense of humor and some memorable one-liners, but it still ain’t quite at the “gritty” level. Think if the Coens traded in some laughs for some attitude, I’d be whistling a different tune in that regard. But at least the laughs are good ones.

Although the cast is an improvement on every front.

Coming as the biggest non-surprise of the year, Jeff Bridges is the freakin’ man. Yeah, I’ll say it, he’s one-upped The Duke as trigger-happy marshal “Rooster” Cogburn. He’s a more convincing drunk, he’s a crotchety bastard, and, come on, he’s The Dude. The long and short of it is that Bridges is awesome for the same reasons he’s always been and he brings a lot more character to the role than was ever there before. Not exactly Oscar-worthy, but he rocks and Cogburn’s legacy as a Western icon has only been further cemented.

And big props to Hailee Steinfeld as Cogburn’s tween employer, Mattie Ross. Doesn’t hurt that Ross was the best character to begin with, but Steinfeld’s got the chops of someone twice her age and she holds her own like a total boss in her silver screen debut. Looking forward to seeing more from her, something tells me she’ll be popping up like gangbusters.

The most surprising cast member here is actually Matt Damon as our Texas Ranger of the hour, LaBeouf. Man, I don’t know how he’s managing to raise a family these days because Matt Damon has been in fucking everything over the past couple years and it doesn’t look like he’s gonna stop his goal of becoming The Most Filmed Human Being of All-Time any time soon. With that being said, after seeing him without fail in at least one coming attraction for every movie I’ve gone to since starting this blog, it was getting old. But I guess there’s something to him being at the top of every casting director’s Most Wanted list because he’s an astronomical improvement over Glen Campbell’s take on the character. Like Bridges and Steinfeld, he’s not playing second fiddle to anyone, he gets it done well and his glorified boy scout approach is a great compliment to Bridges’ constant harassment. So keep it up, Matt, guess I just need to see more of your movies.

Josh Brolin’s also unusually solid as bounty number one, Tom Chaney, and it’s nice to see the under-casted Barry Pepper as Chaney’s boss, Ned Pepper. Dude is the second coming of Robert Duvall.

But the biggest problem with True Grit is the same problem I had with the original: it still feels like your standard, by-the-books Western. The good thing about that is that it’s cool to see the Coens taking a more old school approach to things, but not counting a few minor exceptions like a better ending, the story and the plot are still unchanged and the story and the plot weren’t all that memorable to begin with. Still not crazy about the waxing and waning relationships among these three bounty hunters even though their character arcs have improved, still didn’t have much of a connection with them, and I simply didn’t find myself all that invested in a story that I feel like I’ve heard before. Felt stronger about all these shortcomings with the original, but they’re still there regardless and they’re what hold this baby back from nabbing an 8.

It wasn’t that I was disappointed by True Grit, it just wasn’t the re-imagining I was expecting from a film making duo who clearly know a thing or two about all things gritty. Nevertheless, it’s a definite improvement in a lot of key areas. Doesn’t quite live up to all the “better than Unforgiven” talk I’ve been hearing, but it’s good for what it is. A fine Western to wrap up a decade that could have used more.

Gotta love that poster though.

20 Comments leave one →
  1. January 4, 2011 12:58 pm

    Excellent review! I have no interest in seeing the original and was glad this was more dark comedy than a straight Western. Totally agree with what you said about Hailee, she’s on my top 5 breakout performances list as she totally blew me away. She practically outshone Bridges in some scenes which is quite a feat considering this was her first big role.

    • January 10, 2011 3:16 pm

      Thanks! Actually wish it had fallen more on the Western end of things, but the comedy was good and so was Steinfeld. Girl should do alright for herself from here on out.

  2. January 5, 2011 2:01 am

    Awesome review… I loved this flick (one of my favorites from 2010) but you are right, it’s no “Unforgiven”. “True Grit” was indeed patchy at times (pun intended) 🙂

    • January 5, 2011 10:55 am

      Thanks, man! Glad you liked the movie. Wasn’t that enthusiastic about it myself, but still enjoyed it. Need to read more reviews to see what it was that other folks thought so highly about.

  3. January 5, 2011 8:50 pm

    You really have to hand it to the marketing dept. on this one. That poster is AWESOME…and all the trailers and TV spots using that Johnny Cash song…combine that with the fact the movie is pretty damn good (not great, but damn good and entertaining) and is it any wonder this is the biggest hit in the Coens’ career?

    • January 5, 2011 9:32 pm

      Yeah, that’s a bitchin’ Johnny Cash song (which you can say about any Johnny Cash song) and it works wonders for a Western. All the same, thought the trailer was okay and I think it’s the reason I went into the movie with the impression that it was gonna be a lot meaner than it was. Still a good movie, but totally surprised this surpassed the likes of Fargo and No Country. Guess that’s the wonders of PG-13 at work.

      BUT, yeah, awesome freakin’ poster. All about that bleeding bullet hole.

  4. Steve D. permalink
    January 6, 2011 4:12 pm

    While the movie was good, I found the lack of contractions in speech and particularly the lack of the word “ain’t” a distraction. People used contractions then and since most of the characters were uneducated, the speeches were out of place. The actors did not seem comfortable using the language. I also did not particularly find Damon’s portrayal any better than Campell’s. Matthew’s acting was almost a direct copy or Stuther Martin. He could have acted the part and not the actor. I liked Steinfield as Mattie and Bridges did bring life to Cogburn. However, the big line “Fill your hands…” was spoken a little too fast and lost the emphasis it needed. Just my opinion and that is why Hollywood makes more than one movie a year.

  5. January 7, 2011 1:03 am

    I completely agree. While the film is indelibly Coen, it’s stilted in the classical notions of film Westerns. After seeing Westerns like The Proposition and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, going back to something like this makes it appear all the crasser and simplistic.

    • January 7, 2011 9:42 am

      Dude, anyone who digs The Proposition is a man after my own heart. Best Western of the past decade if you ask me. Still need to see Jesse James (which I will), but the way this is stilted in the classic notions of Westerns as you said is the real double-edged sword of the movie as a whole. For such a ruthless trailer, you’d think the actual movie would follow suit.

  6. HermioneO permalink
    January 7, 2011 10:24 am

    Oh, man, I could really go for a Coehn bros remake of Battlefield Earth. Movies should never be made by fanatic followers of a religious leader.

  7. mcarteratthemovies permalink
    January 7, 2011 2:26 pm

    I’m really gunning for Steinfeld to earn some nominations for her role — I mean, wow. She knocks you on your ass with how good she is. I don’t know many girls her age who could hold their own against a heavyweight like Jeff Bridges. I was somewhat disappointed that Barry Pepper’s part was so small because he’s shaping up to be a great actor.

    • January 7, 2011 2:50 pm

      Totally agree with on Steinfeld, girl is all business and at least deserves a nom. And Barry Pepper’s one of those guys who’s been around for ages but never gets the leading role even though he kicks ass. Don’t know why that is, but he deserves his 15 in the spotlight.

  8. January 10, 2011 9:53 pm

    I’ve just started watching the original after seeing this one last week. Take a guess as to which I’ll prefer…

    Anyway, I hear what you’re saying and understand your score. It’s not a great story. My wife never had an interest in seeing this because she said the trailer showed you the whole movie. And it does.

    But it doesn’t (you knew a ‘but’ was coming). This thing was a fun fucking movie. Sidenote: I thought that a bit strange given the subject matter, but whatever. This had the Coens comedy stink all over it, and I dug the hell out of it. The cast was fanfuckingtastic – I particularly dug Pepper as well, though Brolin’s hambone act was pretty sweet, too.

    Bridges is, as you say, the man. That courtroom scene…wow. I could watch an hour of that. And I’m already annoyed to death by the chick playing the girl in the original. Ugh.

    • January 11, 2011 7:52 am

      haha. glad you dug it, man, and it’s definitely a step-up from the original in every way even if i didn’t love either. but no argument with ya’ on the cast, they are all out of sight. and while it is a fun movie, i think i was hoping for a tone that was more along the lines of No Country. all the same, good for what it is.

  9. October 6, 2011 7:54 am

    I finally got around the watching this last night – man, it was awesome. Jeff Bridges is The Man.

    • October 7, 2011 2:23 pm

      Haha. Yeah, I think a lot of people liked it more than I did, but I dug it all the same. Thought Steinfeld ran away with it, but Bridges was quite, quite awesome.


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