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PopEntertainment.com > Reviews > Movie Reviews > True Grit (2010)

MOVIE REVIEWS

TRUE GRIT (2010)

Starring Hailee Steinfeld, Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper, Dakin Matthews, Jarlath Conroy, Paul Rae, Domhnall Gleeson, Elizabeth Marvel, Dakin Matthews, Roy Lee Jones, Ed Lee Corbin, Leon Russom, Bruce Green, Candyce Hinkle and Peter Leung.

Screenplay by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen.

Directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen.

Distributed by Paramount Pictures.  110 minutes.  Rated PG-13.

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True Grit

The movie poster for the new version of Charles Portis’ classic novel is as basic and no-frills as an old west wanted poster.  And, strangely enough for such a bare-bones approach, it is a perfect representation of what the movie is able to do so strongly – capturing in bold strokes with little fuss or background a sturdy, old-fashioned, all-American story.

In fact, this classic retelling brings new storytelling discipline out in the talented but offbeat Joel and Ethan Coen.  This is about as straightforward a narrative as they have ever taken on – and to their credit they do not chafe under the confines of genre filmmaking, instead they add some true majesty to an already iconic tale.

True confessions time here – with very few exceptions, I hate westerns.  It is just a style and genre that has never held much charm or interest to me.  However, I have always loved True Grit – whether the film (the only John Wayne movie I can sit through) or the even better novel, which I first read in junior high and am in the process of rereading as I write this. 

The Coen Brothers stick much more closely to the novel than the former film – placing the 14-year-old girl character of Mattie Ross (played with great skill by first-time actress Hailee Steinfeld) rather than the more colorful lawman she hired, Rooster Cogburn. 

As Cogburn, Jeff Bridges totally reinvents an iconic character – there is not even a whiff of John Wayne’s over-the-top bravado in the same role – and yet the character is fascinating.  Although Bridges cedes the spotlight to Steinfeld to a certain extent, the character is impossible not to be riveted by while he is on screen. 

Although, oddly, for a filmmaking team known for their offbeat senses of humor, the one aspect of the novel which does not really survive the translation to the new film is the wit with which Portis leavened his novel.  The humor is much more subdued and muted in the film, as if the Coens felt that they had to prove they could make a serious genre film without camping it up.  It leaves a bit of a hole in the narrative, though, the story is meant to be rather funny.  It would not have been disrespectful for the filmmakers to have allowed this lightness to show more distinctly.

Also, of course, the source material, while still wonderful, is no longer as trenchant as it was.  The idea of a 14-year-old girl bravely standing up for herself and competently surviving in a man’s world was relatively cutting edge when the first movie came out in 1969 – or when the novel was released in 1968 – at the height of the women’s liberation movement.  However, it is not such a novelty in the modern world.

Still, even with these two slight faults, the new version of True Grit works wonderfully.

That 14-year-old girl is Mattie Ross, a smart and solemn and not very attractive young teen whose father was murdered by Tom Chaney, a no-good foreman on their farm (played by Josh Brolin).  Chaney has disappeared apparently living in Indian Territory with hardened local outlaw Lucky Ned Pepper (ironically played by Barry Pepper – no relation, obviously, since Lucky Ned was a fictional character). 

She hires Cogburn to capture Chaney because he has “grit” and he is somewhat ruthless.  They hook up with a Texas Ranger named LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) and despite the fact that they all have different motivations, they head into the wilderness to find that outlaws. 

It’s a simple story, but damned if it doesn’t still work like a charm.  The new True Grit is in many ways even better than the 1960s classic film – and that is a truly impressive achievement.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2011 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: January 8, 2011.

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Copyright ©2011 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: January 8, 2011.