Review: True Grit

Here we go. I’m going to attempt to steer away from dropping too many plot points in these reviews, but be aware this post will probably contain mild spoilers.  Consider yourself duly warned.

First up is a review of the 2011 remake of True Grit, the latest offering by the redoubtable Coen brothers. I saw True Grit at the Cinema de Lux so got the full cinema experience of widescreen visuals, proper sound and an awkward trek for a toilet break.  I liked the film, I really did, but I left the cinema wondering why I didn’t like it more.

It’s a far darker, coarser affair than the original 1969 version, which was very much a mainstream western of its time. That’s all to the good in my opinion, the West was a rough and ready frontier zone not the sanitised version often portrayed before the revisionist westerns strutted onto the scene. That’s not to say the remake is unremittingly bleak, in fact it is often leavened with dollops of casual humour, especially during the opening scenes when the 14 year old Mattie Ross rides roughshod over some of the town’s inhabitants or later on the trail when Rooster Cogburn is well and truly liquored up.

Coen brothers have shot surprising straight in their adaption of the Charles Portis novel, going back to the source material for inspiration, although it does borrow a few things from its predecessor, such as Rooster’s iconic eyepatch. The story is told with good quality, understated cinematography and lacks flashy directorial flourishes that could have distracted from its core strength, the characters themselves. It even avoids bombarding us with gratuitous wide angle or helicopter shots, saving them for pivotal moments like the final shoot out where they give the best returns.

To undermine my issues with the film further, there are many other aspects of the film that deserve mention. The language is amazing, you feel like you could roll around in its authenticity, it’s that thick and frankly gorgeous. I was surprised to find out that the novel was written 1968, unless Wikipedia has led me astray, because it certainly feels like it comes from a more contemporary source.

Saving the best for last, the acting is uniformly superb. Jeff Bridges pretty much inhabits the role as the cantankerous, past his sell by date marshal with a too friendly relationship with the bottle, but one still endowed with true grit. You can smell the sweat and stale alcohol, he doesn’t appear to have showered since Crazy Heart.

Matt Damon [Team America moment] MATT DAMON! [/Team America moment] does well with the awkward part of Lebouef, making you actually give a damn about the arrogant, slightly awkward Texas Ranger and Hailee Steinfeld is amazing. She seems tough, resourceful and intelligent as she has had to grow up (too) fast looking after her family, but without that annoying preternatural knowledge that Hollywood often gifts its younger leads. And yet… and yet… True Grit feels less than the sum of its excellent parts.

Having mulled this over at some length, I reckon for me the scenes between the final show down and epilogue are what destroy the film’s momentum. In such a  linear story the pacing and narrative structure in this critical third are important and when it falls somewhat flat in this department, it casts a shadow over the rest of the film.

Despite my occasional misgivings, I’d recommend True Grit to anyone as a film worth checking out. I’d even go as far as saying I suspect most people would rate it higher than I have. As for me, I’m looking forward to catching up with it in a couple of years and maybe being a bit more lenient in my assessment.  But for now, I’ve got to rush, there’s a zombie apocalypse occurring on Channel 5 that I need to catch up on.

True Grit inspired poster from Design You Trust & official movie poster

                                                   Rating 73/100


~ by Jack on April 17, 2011.

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