True Grit (2010)
The Dude does the Duke
For the majority of its twelve months, 2010 wasn’t a very good year for movies. While there were the occasional gems such as Shutter Island, How to Train Your Dragon, and Kick-Ass, the first half of the year was deathly starved of quality movies. Even the summer only had a few hits like Toy Story 3, Inception, and The Expendables. But while I expected things to pick up during Oscar season (September-December), I didn’t foresee the amount of so many great movies that would arrive. One of those was the Coen brothers’ remake of the John Wayne western, True Grit, which was immediately embraced by almost everyone, critics and audiences alike. While I will say it was a very good movie, I can’t quite shower it with the same amount of praise.
Plot Synopsis: After her father is murdered at the hands of the outlaw Tom Chaney, teenager Mattie Ross requests the help of Marshall Rooster Cogburn in an effort to track down Chaney (or possibly kill him). Texas Ranger La Boeuf, who has been on the trail of Chaney for some time because of another murder and who wishes to take him in on his own terms, also soon joins Mattie and Rooster along the way.
First, a little background: I have seen the original, but the remake does manage to best it in almost every category. The Coen brothers have gone back to the original Charles Portis novel for inspiration, more so in little details rather than the overall story. The movie pretty much goes through the same events that Wayne trekked through before, albeit pumped up with the Coens’ flair for elegant writing and strong, slightly quirky characters. And while not darkly gritty in the vain of Clint Eastwood westerns nor does it have the “clean” feeling of old (i.e. John Wayne) westerns, the Coens find a nice middle ground where the beautiful landscapes and scenery are punctuated by stark bouts of action.
Amazingly, there is not one weak link within the entire cast. Jeff Bridges does a great job of making this Rooster his to call his own, refraining from referencing John Wayne’s performance with the exception of when the plot called for it. Cogburn is a humorous and oddball character, but he’s also quick on the draw and won’t hesitate on shooting if the occasion called for it. However, first-time actress Hailee Steinfeld steals the film right from under everyone, meaning Matt Damon (La Boeuf), Josh Brolin (Chaney), and even Bridges. Whenever Steinfeld (as Mattie) is present, and that’s about 90% of the time, she dominates the movie with her hardened assertiveness and remarkable maturity, while at the same time reminding us that she is still a child who has yet to experience some of the harsh realities of life.
And while everything I’ve mentioned cements that True Grit comes highly recommended, I cannot quite say it is one of the top five movies of the year like so many others have stated. I felt an odd sense of detachment during the course of the movie, meaning I wasn’t quite as involved in the plot as I probably should have been. Also, I began to notice a pattern of mumbling and occasionally hard to understand actor voices; starting with Bridges’ droll speech and Brolin’s bumbling and then eventually Damon joins in on the act after Le Boeuf bites his tongue. This was more of a minor annoyance than anything significant, but it bothered me at times. Nevertheless, I would still say the movie is very good, satisfying, and very recommended, but I didn’t quite see anything so above and beyond that I fell head over heels in love with it.