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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

True Grit (2010)

The Coen Brothers' 2010 version of Charles Portis' 1968 novel "True Grit" is beautiful, well-acted, and an overall disappointment. What should be an enthralling coming-of-age/revenge tale feels like an oddly cold, technical cinematic exercise. I am going to avoid comparison to the 1969 John Wayne version of True Grit, primarily because it's one of my favorite westerns and I'll go off on a tangent, but also because the two films have absolutely nothing in common.

Fourteen-year-old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) is a girl hell-bent on avenging her father's murder. She hires cycloptic US marshal Reuben "Rooster" Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to help her track Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), the man who killed her father. They are assisted by LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), a Texas Ranger with a shrewd, selfish streak. They traverse rough terrain and an even more ponderous plot that rivals "Oregon Trail" for sheer banal predictability. And yes, I have read the book--somehow, True Grit takes a fairly interesting story and turns it into a beige, never-ending landscape of mediocrity.

If I were to categorize True Grit, I would say it would fit in the "Revisionist Western" category-in good company with films like McCabe and Mrs. Miller and Little Big Man. The hallmark of revisionist westerns is an overt cynicism, and a willingness to critique American society and values. Revisionist Westerns contradict the cliches of "classic" westerns (e.g. The Naked Spur, High Noon) and "spaghetti westerns," (e.g. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly). The Coens avoid the "black hat, white hat" dichotomy of the traditional American Western, choosing instead to frame youth as the hero (or heroine) of the film. Cogburn has lost what Mattie has: youth, drive, passion, obsession, a mission in life. He idles aimlessly while she plows ahead, completely sure of herself and committed to her mission. The aging, sardonic men in the film look upon her with a sneer, but also with a certain tinge of envy. True Grit is definitely cynical and verges on nihilistic-but I was hard pressed to find any deeper message. Furthermore, I found it difficult to connect with the characters. As Rooster Cogburn, Jeff Bridges is fantastic at playing a drunken, rapidly declining lawman. But I didn't really care about him. As Mattie Ross, newcomer Hailee Steinfeld takes fantastic direction and hits every mark. But I had absolutely no investment in her mission or in her outcome. Probably the most successful, interesting character is LaBoeuf, who is just reserved and complex enough to be interesting.

The amount I would pay to see this film: $3
My apologies to my boyfriend, who paid $20 for us to see it. Meh. We learned our lesson.


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