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True Grit

February 21, 2011

There’s no denying that the Coen Brothers are good at what they do exceptional even, however, I’m realizing lately their talented knack for writing fresh and quirky films and directing them in their own hyperrealistic way is extremely hit or miss. When they hit, they do it hard as their more recent gems No Country for Old Men and A Serious Man prove. Yet when they miss it’s by a long shot as shown by Burn After Reading and this year’s Oscar nominated True Grit. What makes True Grit so disappointing is that it feels like the Coen’s weren’t exactly sure what they wanted the film to be. It’s presented as a dark, gritty Western about a young girl desperate to get revenge on the man that killed her father. What True Grit is instead is a simplistic predictable story about a girl determined to bring her father’s killer to trial. For a neo-Western the action of the film is minimal and its exposition is unfortunately its major element, making for a slow and at times awkward film.

14 year-old Mattie Rose (Hailee Steinfeld) is left to pick up the body of her recently murdered father while her mom and two younger siblings wait at home. While gone Mattie haggles a business deal of her father’s receiving $325 to which she begins to investigate hiring a Deputy U.S. Marshal to track down and bring back the murderer Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) to try and hang. She is given a list of the finest Deputy’s to which she chooses Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), a deputy with a high body count, drinking problem, and what is described to Mattie as “true grit.” With these qualities however Cogburn is nothing more than the film’s ‘loose cannon’ something Mattie realizes from the start when he breaks their deal of working together opting to find Chaney without her. Determined to personally bring justice to her family Mattie sets out on a journey to join Cogburn and Texas Ranger Laboeuf (Matt Damon) who is also in route to bring Chaney back to Texas for his part in murdering a Texan Deputy the three must overcome personal differences to bring down an outlaw.

The trio’s journey isn’t necessarily interesting or action packed. What could have been a great coming of age story instead becomes a long drawn out narrative showcasing battling egos that of course come together for their greater purpose in the end. The Coen’s personal style simply isn’t implemented in True Grit. The cinematography is there, their perfect use of set design, costume, and atmosphere is as well but the intriguing story development and their innovative directing techniques aren’t. In fact True Grit at times plays out like an ABC Family movie and becomes cheesy and laughable due to the films melodramatic scoring and use of music. During a scene in which Mattie must prove she can hang with the big boys, she crosses a river on a feeble newly purchased horse. As she gets halfway across a score of uplifting triumphant music takes place jarring attention from what audiences know will be a successful moment to the realization that we are being forced to care for the minimal feat of an uninteresting character.

Much of the film’s predictability is almost an insult to audiences. The good guys win, the bad guys get it at the right time, and everything ends ok. There are a few scenes of minimal shock and twists but they aren’t developed enough to care about the situations. Mattie’s character is meant to be a head strong mature teenager determined to bring justice to her family, however, no scenes ever show why she wants to bring justice other than revenge. She has no tender moments of expressing love for her father or family and she is never shown to be affected by the murderous and dangerous position she’s put herself in, in fact Mattie comes off desensitized by everything around her. Mattie is not a cold emotionless character however much of the film she is void of fear and average emotions that a 14-year-old would experience. Her biggest emotional moment comes when she witnesses an animal die, a scene and character development that could have had more affect had the film focused on her personality and lack of people skills instead of attempting to flesh it out in the last 5 minutes of the film.

I personally fail to see how and why Jeff Bridges is nominated for the Oscar of Best Actor in a Leading Role considering that his performance is not that great of one. I’m beginning to think that critics are confusing the notion of good acting with simply playing a part. Merely playing a drunken mumbling Sheriff doesn’t make for a great performance alone and although Bridges is a master of his craft, Cogburn seemed to be a more downplayed version of Bridges’ last winning role as Bad Blake in his 2009 film Crazy Heart. True Grit walks a very thin line of decent and failure as it’s pretty boring at times and annoying at others. As mentioned before, 2010 was a pretty terrible year for film so it’s no surprise that a film done by two legends would get immediate praise and Oscar nominations. It may have been an attempt to merely remake or pay homage to its predecessors but either way True Grit lacked originality, personality, and pun intended true grit.


AVOID IT.

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