It’s a hard genre in which to compete.
I don’t like campy, I’m no fan of John Wayne, and I’ve never hankered for a horse named Trigger.
So, with that blasphemy out of the way, there are a few Westerns out there that’ve really tripped my trigger.
And now we can add another, Joel & Ethan Coen’s razor sharp version of True Grit.
This movie, from the acting to the scenery and throughout, kicks ass on every level.
I’ve never seen the original True Grit (sinner!), so I have no basis for comparison, and from what I was told by the lady hired to make sure I didn’t film the screening, it really didn’t follow the original much at all. Fine. Like I said, John Wayne always seemed to me to be more of a caricature than anything (heresy!), and I’m a loyal fan of Jeff Bridges (Rooster Cogburn), ever since The Big Lebowski. I’m also a freakish fan of the Coen Brothers cinematic efforts, so I was primed for a visual feast, and now, I lay here fat and sated and overwhelmed by the genius of this movie.
The story revolves around a crazy-sharp 14 year old girl named Mattie Sharp (flawlessly played by Hailee Steinfeld) who seeks to avenge her fathers death at the hands of deranged hired man Tom Chane (Josh Brolin). She forcefully and resourcefully employs the U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn, the one-eyed lawman described as having “the most grit.” Along the way, the pair are joined by Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) who is long on stories of valor but somewhat lacking in sand. They weave their way through the Choctaw Nation, with serene and severe landscapes marking their journey which is seasoned with just enough gunplay and bloodshed to remind you of the cruelty of that time.
One of the hallmarks of the modern Western that allows me to enjoy it more than the forebears of previous generations is the dark realities portrayed. Follow me here; there are no definitive white hats vs. black hats, no saints fighting the sinners. All the players seem to have redeemable and regrettable qualities. The heroes like whores and the villains don’t always set out to kill the children. The law seems to be subjective at best, and often subjective to the whims of those in power. I imagine this is an accurate reflection of the era. It certainly is the case with modern-day society.
I won’t ruin the story for you, but I will tell you this much: Jeff Bridges fearlessly executes his role as foil to the well-spoken, tenacious Steinfeld. You find yourself rooting for the girl with just revenge in her heart and on her mind. She learns the ways of the outlaw lifestyle, and has to witness both majestic country and horrible devastation at the hands of man.
The acting is rugged as the country it takes place in; Damon, Barry Pepper as Lucky Ned and Brolin all fulfill their roles as the journeymen they are, convincing and cruel, survivors in an unforgiving time. Once again, the Coen Brothers have proven that whatever genre they tackle, they do it with an innovative flair, original, engaging and engrossing at every turn. These guys could make a movie about the wonders of basket-weaving, and at the end of it, I’d find myself signing up for classes at the junior college.
As it stands, I find myself in great awe of the genre once again. Bridges has really shone in this remarkable story, and I believe he could well win the Oscar for the same role John Wayne won his; the difference being that this telling stays more true to the book, and certainly displaying more grit.
Overall Movie Score: VERY SOLID A+