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True Grit

A movie directed by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen

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A riveting meditation on the high price of vengeance. With GREAT performances!

  • Dec 26, 2010
  • by
14-year-old Mattie Ross has come to Ft. Smith Arkansas sometime during the "old west" to hire a US Marshall to track and bring to justice the man who shot and killed her father. She hires the man she's been told has true grit, Reuben "Rooster" Cogburn, a one-eyed drunk with a ferocious reputation. They set out for the Indian Territories, accompanied, to their chagrin, by the dandified Texas Ranger LeBoeuf. Along the way, they encounter some strange characters and engage in dangerous and bloody adventures.

This, in a tiny nutshell, is the story of TRUE GRIT, the Coen Brothers take on the famous novel (rather than a remake of the John Wayne original). It's a fairly simple story, and to be honest, much of it is predictable. Will the irascible drunk shake himself out of his stupor long enough to take on the job? Will his initial dislike of the young, smart-mouth Mattie turn to respect and affection? Will the three reluctant companions find grudging value in each other? Will there be blood?

In many ways, the Coens have made their most commercially accessible dramatic movie. While it is full of their usual quirkiness, it all lends itself to add mood and authenticity (for example, the rococo and florid language everyone uses would on paper seem hard to believe, no doubt. But it adds to the feeling of time and place in remarkable ways). You don't need to grasp around for meaning (as in the mundane ending of FARGO or the abrupt conclusion to NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN). TRUE GRIT is a period piece with authentic looking sets, costumes and locations (much of it filmed in New Mexico, as was NO COUNTRY). It is full of bloodshed, in the usual blunt, brutal, graphic style of the Coens (when someone is killed in a Coen brothers movie, there is never anything satisfying about it…we feel the life going out of the person, along with their aspirations, loves and longings). It is also full of many funny moments, primarily in the extremely tart and intelligent dialogue. It's one of the loveliest sounding films of the many years.

One of the earliest Coen Brothers movies was MILLER'S CREEK. It could have been a commercial movie, except at the time, period pieces about gangsters were not much in vogue. The dialogue was nearly as fancy as in TRUE GRIT. There was plenty of violence (including a stunning shootout with Albert Finney). But it starred Gabriel Byrne and Marcia Gay Harden. Fine actors…but not movie stars.

In TRUE GRIT, the Coens have turned again to Jeff Bridges (from their cult comedy THE BIG LEBOWSKI). Bridges is enjoying a popular renaissance right now, and just looking at a photo of him as Cogburn tells you he's going to give an iconic performance. So the part is perfect for Bridges, and the times are perfect for the public to flock to see him. His Cogburn is certainly Oscar-worthy (as was Wayne's performance, which won the award). He looks great…both terrifying and a little silly. But in young Hailee Steinfield, who plays Mattie, he has found a perfect foil. Steinfield gives an amazing and riveting performance. This young lady has so much poise, so much intelligence and so much fire that she and her character light up the screen and nearly steal all their scenes. Steinfield makes Mattie entirely a girl of her time. She goes into the wild and sees and endures horrible things, yet never complains…in part because she's got grit of her own, but also because in the time of the movie, kids already understood that life could be short, painful and unattractive…and that death could be too. We do occasionally see Mattie scared, but mostly we see her innate acceptance. It's a fabulous performance and Bridges seems delighted to have such a great co-star to spar with. The two develop their bond so easily, we hardly notice it happening. Matt Damon, whose part is smaller, is something of comic relief…but he has his own reserves of fire and when the three are together, he does not detract but rather enhances the film. I wouldn't say his performance is on the same level as the other two, but he's very fine indeed, and it's nice to see him join his buddies George Clooney and Brad Pitt as a Coen Brothers actor. I suspect it won't be his last time.

TRUE GRIT, at least as presented here, is a study of the high price of retribution. The idea of simply chasing a killer down and bringing him to deadly justice seems straightforward. But what I suspect drew the Coen's to the material is the high price that is paid, both physically and spiritually, for this "simple" justice. Grit is earned at a fairly high price.

TRUE GRIT is hugely satisfying and entertaining. The ending is a little threadbare (I believe that comes from the source material)…but otherwise, it is a thing of harsh beauty. The camerawork and editing are impeccable. The costumes are appropriately dirty, and reflect the hygiene of the day. All the supporting cast (notably Barry Pepper) are excellent. And the Coen Brothers aesthetic has been stretched (but not broken) in pleasing ways. Because the film is so accessible, one might assume going in that the Coen's have "sold out." Nothing could be further from the truth…the film has their distinctive hallmarks all over it, and this only makes the film better. I saw the film on Christmas Day (in a sold-out theater). It's not exactly upbeat holiday fare. But if seeing great films puts you in a cheery mood, then TRUE GRIT leave you feeling very fine indeed.

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December 29, 2010
Great comment on the quirkiness and great closing line. Thanks for the great review!.
More True Grit reviews
review by . December 23, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
I have no idea how many times I have stated the rules for filming a movie that remakes an iconic original. Well, if you’re one of those folks who’ve never read any of my reviews before, they are quite simple: 1) It must broaden the scope that is covered by the original film while adapting it for a much more modern audience. 2) It must follow the essence and the spirit of the said material (in this case the book). 3) It should pay homage to the source material and/or the original film.   …
review by . December 26, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
Our Christmas movie this year was True Grit, which we saw in the late show Christmas night just before the first Christmas snow in Raleigh in 60 years shut down the town.  We followed that up with a viewing (my first!) of the 1969 original starring John Wayne and Glenn Campbell.      I recently read and reviewed Charles Portis's novel, which I rated +5 for Mattie Ross's spare language of guarded emotion that tells us more about her than pages of florid description …
review by . January 15, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Nothing in this world is free… except the grace of God.
With that, the movie begins.      Let me say this about movies. It is neither my lifeblood nor life passion. It is simply one form of entertainments for me. And since I moved to China a few years ago, I barely need to pay much for it. Believe me, very little, hehe...      So, I got my fair share of movies. Some good, some darn lousy. I don’t normally waste time writing the lousy ones. To me, they are not even worth a minute of my life writing about …
review by . February 15, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
***1/2 out of ****     "True Grit" is the latest offering from the legendary geniuses that are the Coen Brothers, and upon finishing the film, I can't help but admit that I was indeed quite "wowed". I went into this film expecting no particularly big surprises; and left feeling provoked and shocked by just how different this film was; at least from what I expected it to be. But the second adaptation of "True Grit" is still a damn good one, and in a number of ways, I enjoy it …
review by . January 24, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
The Coen Brothers are not usually known for doing purely genre films.  There's usually a semblance of several genres mixed together when they do a film.  To see them do a purely western is something of a curiosity.  After all, there are reasons why a western, of all genres, might turn heads.  In the first place, it has been years since a fantastic western actually showed up in theaters (perhaps the last truly good one was the 2007 remake of 3:10 to Yuma), but more than that... …
review by . February 08, 2011
Our Christmas movie this year was True Grit, which we saw in the late show Christmas night just before the first Christmas snow in Raleigh in 60 years shut down the town.  We followed that up with a viewing (my first!) of the 1969 original starring John Wayne and Glenn Campbell.      I recently read and reviewed Charles Portis's novel, which I rated +5 for Mattie Ross's spare language of guarded emotion that tells us more about her than pages of florid description …
review by . December 27, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
   If you had asked me a month, maybe even a couple of weeks ago what my favorite film of the year was going to be, without hesitation I would have said Christopher Nolan’s Inception. I knew that Tron Legacy and True Grit were coming up, and I had a feeling that the latter had a good chance of making my top ten or even my top five, but I had no idea it had this great of a chance. In fact, it might just be giving Inception a good run for its money. This is one of my favorites of …
review by . December 30, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
   The Western genre is a perennial of American cinema. Sometimes very popular, sometimes just sort of “there”, but never going away. In recent years we’ve seen Westerns like Unforgiven and 3:10 to Yuma, both of which are great examples of what the genre can do when it’s being worked by someone who really knows what they’re doing. Now to this list we can add True Grit, directed by the Coen Brothers. As with their other films, it’s not just a fine example …
review by . December 20, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
The Coen Brothers know their way around a film. That much has been established over the years. And after a few films that were not seen by too many, they return to the West, but this time around with the clock set back a few years.      True Grit is based of the 1968 novel of the same name. And while it shares its source material with the 1969 film that won John Wayne his only Oscar, it would be unfair to call this a remake. Lost is the tone of the previous film, it loses …
review by . June 09, 2011
Less than a year after the initial publication of Charles Portis' second and finest novel, the popular film adaptation of True Grit was released, marketed as another of far too many John Wayne vehicles. In spite of the film's success and enduring popularity, admirers of the harsh, blackly comic novel can easily recognize it as an insincere, sanitized crowd-pleaser. Wayne played tough-as-nails U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn exactly as he would any other character, his performance as by-the-numbers …
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True Grit is an upcoming 2010 Western film, written and directed by the Coen brothers and starring Jeff Bridges, Josh Brolin and Matt Damon. The film is an adaptation of the 1968 novel by Charles Portis which was previously adapted for film in 1969. Filming began on March 2010 with an anticipated release date of December 25, 2010.
Bridges will play U.S. Marshal Reuben J. "Rooster" Cogburn. The character was portrayed by John Wayne in the 1969 film, a performance which earned him the Academy Award for Best Actor.
Mattie Ross, a 14-year-old girl, undertakes a quest to avenge her father's death at the hands of a drifter named Tom Chaney. Ross persuades an alcoholic marshal named Rooster Cogburn to join her in tracking down Chaney.
Ethan Coen said that the film will be a more faithful adaptation of the novel than the 1969 version.
“             It's partly a question of point-of-view. The book is entirely in the voice of the 14-year-old girl. That sort of tips the feeling of it over a certain way. I think [the book is] much funnier than the movie was so I think, unfortunately, they lost a lot of humour in both the situations and in her voice. It also ends differently than the movie did. You see the main character — the little girl — 25 years later when she's an adult. Another way in which it's a little bit different from the movie — and maybe this ...
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Director: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Genre: Adventure, Drama, Western
Release Date: 22 December 2010 (USA)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 110 min
Studio: Paramount Pictures
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