Friday, February 18, 2011

Cinema - True Grit

or: How the West was wonderful.

One word to sum it up: Funny.

Westerns. Not one of my most treasured territories. Well, yeah, I've seen High Noon and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, but I highly doubt that that could qualify me as an expert on westerns. The Coens are another section of the film world which I don't feel too expertised on (yes, I just made up a word). I've only seen Burn After Reading and A Serious Man, films which I genuinely liked, but haven't quite gotten around to the classic Coens yet. So, based on my lack of knowledge of the two heaviest components of True Grit, I will have to base the following statement on my expectations of the two: True Grit is a bloody good western and a bloody good Coen film.

So how is it that the Coens could bring the western genre back to our screens, making it fit for a modern audience, so to speak? They give us a movie with Jeff Bridges + eyepatch, Matt Damon + lots of tassles and a young chick to blow our minds to pieces because she is so great at acting and she is so young. Their cast gets a damn good script, based more on the book by Charles Portis than the 1969 classic of the same name which scored John Wayne his only Oscar. We see the story through the eyes of old Mattie Ross (Elizabeth Marvel), who is recollecting her younger days when she was hunting down the killer of her father, as heard through her narration. 14 year old Mattie (Hailee Steinfeld) enlists the help of U.S Marshal Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to help her find a man named Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), who killed her father and whom she wants revenge on. Before she embarks on her journey, she meets a Texas Ranger, LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), who wants Chaney for his own reasons. Now Mattie, Rooster and LaBoeuf form an unlikely trio to avenge Mattie's fathers death, obviously coming across some problems along the way.

Going in to True Grit, I thought I would be in for one of those gun slinging action flicks that have thrilling horse-and-cowboy fights happening all over the place. My prediction was quite wrong. While there are a lot of gun shots fired and a lot of people dying in this movie, but it's more a sharp witted drama than anything. The character development, on behalf of the actors and the script, is fantastic. The way they are able to make the characters stop and interact is something too rarely seen in modern movies. Given that there a lengthy patches of dialogue, True Grit moves along at a comfortable pace: not too caught up in being an action packed gun filled western and not too caught up in being the perfect film for just focussing on characters. The way the themes of revenge and retribution are intertwined within the characters is nice, but perhaps there isn't enough Tom Chaney to make us feel vengeful towards what he did, even though Mattie's point of view makes sure we hate him. Ultimately, this is a highly intelligent and very attentive to detail script that True Grit has going on.

The cinematography by Roger Deakins is another high point in True Grit. There are some absolute killer shots which perfectly fit my expectation of the western genre. Everything he shot was crafted by angels. The snow scenes were magical, the sunset scene was breath takingly beautiful, and individual close ups of the characters were precisely done. If I didn't know any better, I would say he is a strong contender for the cinematography award at the Oscars. To add to True Grit's beauty is some brilliant set design. Everything, down to the last board of wood, is perfect. The costume design by Mary Zophres, too, is great. While each character only has one costume to speak of, her designs are unparalleled in the way they seem to fit each character perfectly, e.g. Mattie has a very edgy but dull dress, because she is headstrong though not an extremely exciting young lass.

Now I've run you all into the ground by my non stop love for the character development, it must be time to conclude this slightly overcooked review with some notes on the performances, the best part of the film. If only Colin Firth could have won an Oscar for his performance in A Single Man last year and Jeff Bridges won for his performance in True Grit this year. Bridges adopts a very slow and slurred gravelly tone which is a little difficult to understand at times, but he is perfect as Rooster. He has the right blend of wit and utter cluelessness that makes him impossible not to enjoy. Matt Damon delivers a very understated performance as LaBoeuf, whose arrogance becomes an arrow of slight flamboyance. Josh Brolin is terrific as the villain Tom Chaney. Though you can't help but wonder when Brolin will stop playing the villain. But he's terrific at it, so I'll leave him to that. However, and many people have said it, Hailee Steinfeld is the standout here. Coming from a similar aged girl who dabbles in school drama classes, Steinfeld is bloody terrific for a fourteen year old. No, she is beyond amazing. I love how hard headed she is and how dedicated she is to the character, which is admittedly hard for a girl with little acting experience. If you were wanting to see True Grit, see it for her, because she steals the show.

THE VERDICT: True Grit is a masterpiece in terms of character development and bringing the western genre to a modern audience.

What I hoped for:

What I got:


  1. Hailee Steinfeld and Roger Deakins were the stars of the film. She was sooooo the lead. Jeff Bridges was good but only as a supporting character.
    Don't you think however 11 Oscar noms were a bit much?? It's good, but not that good. I would give it a "Nice Ascot".

  2. "..."Well, yeah, I've seen High Noon and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"..."

    Does that mean you haven't seen The Good, The Bad and The Ugly yet? or and other of Sergio Leone's films for that matter :0
    They are the best.

    Dead Man, Open Range, The Proposition are also great westerns... and I don't even consider myself a big fan of the genre.

    Anyway, True Grit, yet another new release i haven't looks great though. and I do like The Coen's (except No Country For Old Men and Barton Fink).

  3. Nikhat - Hailee Steinfeld was definitely the lead role. I don't know why she wasn't nominated for Best Actress, that's just beyond me.

    Jack - *bows head in shame* No, I haven't. But I plan to soon, believe me!

  4. It's definitely the film that will make one want to watch or re-watch old classical westerns! By the way, the new rating system works out well, I like it :)

  5. Definitely, I am going to catch up on some westerns in the near future!
    And cool, thanks! I'm liking it too ;)


You mustn't be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.


Related Posts with Thumbnails