Sunday, 27 February 2011

TRUE GRIT (2010) - 4 STARS

"Punishment comes one way or another"

My career in film journalism has seen me attempting to watch various films through many different types of genre and lately I've been intrigued by the Western genre. No one can hold a torch to the likes of Gary Cooper, John Wayne and Clint Eastwood as the stars of those films involving cowboys and Indians but modern cinema has been distancing itself from that genre in recent times. However I finally watched my first western at the cinema recently in the shape of a remake (the horror!) of one of Wayne's classics TRUE GRIT which finally breaks the tradition of remakes flopping with a clinical piece of film-making by the Coen Brothers. Normally they are hit and miss for me, but they have made a beautifully intelligent yet dark adaptation that proves that the western isn't dead just yet!

For those of you who've seen the original, you'll get the picture of the story, but for those who don't here's my usual plot explanation. In the old west, teenage girl Mattie Ross (newcomer Hailee Steinfeld) is distraught when her father is murdered by a cowardly man who he gave work to, Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) who is now on the run. She seeks the help of a professional gun-slinger to track down Chaney and bring him to justice, but the best person she can find is drunken but vicious veteran Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges). Despite his no-nonsense approach to confronting criminals, Mattie knows that she has the right man to do the job but is irritated by his solo ideas as well as his obsession with booze. She soon comes across another professional gunman, naive Texan ranger LaBeouf (Matt Damon) who wants Chaney for murdering a governor in another state but Mattie is determined to get Rooster to find Chaney and have him punished at her local town. However her stubbornness gets the better of her as Rooster and LaBeouf go off together leading to her pursuing them and tagging along. Chaney is mixing in with notorious Ned Pepper (Barry Pepper) and his gang and the unlikely trio find themselves facing a huge quest in finding the gang while also realizing that their own 'grit' will be tested. Ultimately as things look bleak in the search, Mattie eventually gets captured by Chaney and the others leading to a ferocious showdown that could change everything for the heroes in their future lives.

Firstly what makes this film different to the original is the fact it is adaptated strongly from Charles Portis's novel allowing the story to be more reserved and closely binded with various references to the original still intact e.g. similar shots and scenes as well as various dialogue "One-eyed fat man" exchange as well as being more violent hence the 15 rating. The dialogue in True Grit sounds completely authentic along with the accurate-feeling costume and set design, which really adds to the realism of the world it creates creates. Accents are also very important – the harsh Southern drawl that the Coens have always been attracted to is very prominent and plays a very large role in the film. It also looks incredibly beautiful, mainly thanks to regular cinematographer Roger Deakins' whose trademarks are in place: harsh but very naturalistic lighting, washed-out colors, especially in the outdoor scenes and smooth camera movements. And the action scenes are exciting to watch even if you do have to wait for some thrills, though the gritty, loud gun sounds definitely would have suited the big screen experience if I'd have lived in the times of Wayne and Eastwood. Also importantly the acting in this version is a lot better than the original; Jeff Bridges makes his triumphant return in a Coen brothers film, filling the very large shoes of John Wayne, who gave an iconic performance as Rooster in the first adaptation from 1969. He brings his own unique style and sensibilities to the role, combining his drunken goofiness with the seriousness of a skilled hunter and lawman. Damon is clearly having fun with the role, as he finds an excellent balance between the humor and the seriousness and skill his character has crushing Glen Campbell's rather wooden portrayal in the original. Josh Brolin is also effective in an otherwise limited role as Chaney adding cynicism and a freaky presence to the character trying to hide out. But newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, is the ultimate standout proving she is a talent to watch, and a hidden beauty that will be unleashed in a few year's time when she could be Hollywood's next best thing. She commands the screen with her strong-willed, stubborn character, and manages to hold her own against her more experienced co-stars. Could she win the Supporting Actress Oscar? We shall see. 

Though it does well to look good and have a terrific cast, there will be audiences that'll be less patient with various scenes that tend to drag for a long time. It takes at least 1/3 into the film before the trio set off to find Chaney and the way it was advertised as a fast-flowing thriller could prove a disappointment for those wanting to be energized by its action-packed approach. Some moments from the original are sadly snubbed from this version whether it be Mattie's home life or the lawyer references which is still used here but the reveal of whether he exists or not is reduced to a brief mention in a letter near the start of the film taking away the magic of the original. And though some will be iffy about the cheesy ending of the original, this version ends rather disappointing too with a concluding scene of Mattie as an adult not really adding much to end the film's story and really it leaves us a bit deflated about the character's fates (most of the endings in their films tend to end frustratingly). However for a first time experience of watching a western in the cinema, it really was something to enjoy, and this is certainly one of the Coen's best. And nothing more you could want especially if you watch it with a grandparent like I did, a mesmerizing and beautifully made Western with good ol' storytelling!


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