Sunday, March 3, 2013

True Grit

True Grit; western, USA, 2010; D: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, S: Hailee Steinfeld, Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper

Ever since Tom Chaney killed her father Frank, the 14-year old Mattie decided to catch and punish him. However, since he fled into the Indian territory, the Sheriff cannot go there, so Mattie hires the drunk Marshal Rooster Cogburn to get him. After a lot of arguments, he agrees to take her with him, together with Texas Ranger LeBoeuf. They find the track of Chaney, but lose it. Still, Mattie accidentally stumbles upon him at the river. He kidnaps her, but she manages to shoot him, yet falls into a deep pit. A rattlesnake bites her into the hand, so Cogburn rushes her to a far away doctor. Her hand gets amputated, but 25 years later Mattie visits Cogburn's grave.

"True Grit" is a worthy re-telling (and apparently, not a remake) of the eponymous novel where the Coen brothers showed a triple surprising, untypical sense: for straight-forward storytelling, set for them unorthodoxly in the western genre and even showing them in a very, very rare edition, where they allowed some sort of a honest emotional attachment for the characters. Even if it is not a remake, their "True Grit" is better than the '69 "True Grit". The opening act is so brilliant, so natural and fluid that they almost topped their best film of the later phase in their career, "No Country for Old Men", showing exquisite sense for a perfect balance between their oddball humor and the feel of the novel, already obvious in the perfect introduction of Rooster Cogburn who is in the toilet while Mattie tries to talk to him outside ("The jakes is occupied." - "I know it is occupied, Mr. Cogburn. As I said, I have business with you." - "I have prior business!") while Hailee Steinfeld delivers a performance that brings down the house, a fantastic example of natural acting that gives her character charm and wit, for which she was deservedly nominated for a BAFTA and an Oscar.

Unfortunately, while the stale second act can still be compensated thanks to the first, by the time the third act sets in the story is ridding on false momentum: in all honesty, the true energy is spent well before the final showdown since the sole pursuit of Chaney is not that intriguing, and one soon realizes that Steinfeld is the only one carrying the film. Some found fault with casting Matt Damon, but his performance is fine, it is Jeff Bridges who gives a rather mismanaged performance as Rooster Cogburn because he plays him too much like a slob, with too much "drunk talk" and annoying mumbling, which nullifies a large part of effort at chemistry and charm with his interaction with Steinfeld. In that respect, Wayne was better in the '69 film, precisely because he kept his ground in giving a more dignified performance that damped the drunkenness aspect as the only one of Cogburn's persona. The ending seems also slightly inconclusive, since Cogburn's actions were not made believable. Had the movie been as fun and inspirational as the opening act, it would have been excellent, yet as it is, it is a refreshingly honest film where the Coens took a more "normal" approach and got a noble result.


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