True Grit: Review!

28 Dec

Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn and Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross

I kicked off round two of my movie week with True Grit adapted from the book by directors Ethan and Joel Coen.

I’m really happy to see movies at The Grand.  One: I volunteer there.  Two: There’s great service.  Three: They show great films.  So, I was pleased to enter into a completely filled theater and to find out that the last three days have been the highest attended days in The Grand’s history since it opened in 1997.  Pretty impressive for a non-profit theater!

Now, back to the movie.

The film follows enigmatic Mattie Ross as she searches to avenge her father’s death by killing Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin).  Along the way she picks up one-eyed U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn and Texas Ranger LaBouef (Matt Damon).

The film is shot excellently with that typical Coen flavor.  When there is violence, it is quick and nasty but occasionally met with humor.  But, the type of humor that runs throughout the film is mostly dark and really only appears light during a playful game of shoot the target between Rooster and LaBouef that made me instantly think of a similar scene in Red River but not as homoerotic.  The directors navigate plenty of different terrains that actually makes it feel like the characters are going somewhere which, for a western, can sometimes be a bit of a challenge.  In the end, it’s an excellently styled film where every shot seems necessary.

The plot in the film takes second place when held in conjunction with the performances.  Naturally, my favorite was Jeff Bridges as Rooster.  His portrayal of drunken escapades mixed with immense knowledge and bravery really saturate the character as highly memorable.  His performance has a sense of fluidity which makes me feel that the Coen brothers really allowed Jeff Bridges the opportunity to inject his character with a sense of freedom making whatever he says pretty genuine and often with a dark, witty twist.

The other stand out for most people was Hailee Steinfeld’s performance of Mattie Ross.  However, I have to disagree a bit with some of the other reviews I’ve read.  Her performance is great, but the character itself is just too perfect.  Every line is just filled without doubt and is unwavering.  On the other hand, I appreciate that her character is so strong and filled with agency for a women (a child at that) in a genre that is usually barren of them except in saloons.  Least it to say, I’m conflicted.

Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon

The biggest surprise for me was Matt Damon as LaBouef.  Matt Damon can sometimes come off as one-dimensional, but, since I’ve seen The Informant!, I’ve really begun to see a real change in his acting.  Although not to the same extent as Bridges, he commands his time on the screen.  For what little there is of screen time for Josh Brolin, he crafts a pretty interesting character that made me wish he stuck around for a little while longer.

My primary problem was the score.  From honky piano tunes while in the town to annoying strings during the wilderness, I just found most of it unnecessary.  To me, it detracted from the power of the film and took me out of it.  It never added anything to the sense of urgency within the film or played with the stark nature of the west.  It just could have been a lot better.

Also, I’m beginning to like less and less voiceovers.  This one uses them in a typical fashion at the beginning and ending of the film and the occasional letter (I believe if I recall correctly) when the film could have just as easily shown the audience these things.

In the end, my complaints are minor and picky.  The film, in itself, was good.  It was character driven with great performances.  Making this a “you should probably see this film” type of movie; not a requirement, but a helpful suggestion.

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