MOVIE: True Grit (2010)

I was raised on Westerns (especially spaghetti Westerns starring Clint Eastwood —  thanks, Dad!) and I’m a fairly big fan of the genre overall.  For a girl, anyway.  I’ve seen gazillions of Westerns, both new and old, and therefore, I’ve seen a lot of great Westerns, a lot of good Westerns, a lot of mediocre Westerns, and a lot of really, really bad Westerns.

Now, don’t hate me, but I’ve seen the original True Grit a couple of times, both as a kid and as an adult, and I would put it smack-dab in the middle of the “mediocre” category.  I liked Rooster Cogburn a lot better, but I’ve never been much of a fan of The Duke.

That said, the story for True Grit — about a little girl who hires a drunken, over-the-hill U.S. Marshall to help her track down and exact vengeance upon the killer of her father — is a great one.  A classic Western tale.  All it needs is the right writers and the right cast and it could be absolutely mind-blowing.  And so, when I heard the Coen brothers were taking it on, I was beyond excited; I was thrilled.  At least, I was thrilled until the reviews started to come out last December, almost all of which said pretty much the same thing:  meh, s’awright.

What??  Only all right?  How could this not be great?  The trailer looked great (man, did it ever, especially the early one, which I can’t seem to find online, alas).  The actors are all great.  The Coen brothers are certainly great.  And the story is great.  How do you make a “meh, s’awright” movie out of this combination?

Well, my friends, you do it like this:  You turn off everything that makes you a unique, interesting filmmaker, and you just go straight old-fashioned genre.

The Coen brothers’ True Grit is a fine film.  The acting is strong, the story is entertaining, and the script is sharp and clever (although, if you ask me, slightly too sharp and too clever in a few places to be believable — I especially had this problem with the Mattie Ross character, who, even as a precocious little girl, doesn’t talk like a precocious little girl, but instead like an adult telling the story of a precocious little girl (which is why she talks like that in the novel, narrated by Mattie as an adult, if I remember correctly.  But she maybe shouldn’t have talked quite so much like that in the film.)).  I laughed out loud more than once, and was completely engrossed in the story throughout the entire picture.  Additionally, I thought both Matt Damon and the ridiculously-underrated Barry Pepper did excellent jobs with their parts.  (Jeff Bridges, on the other hand, I wasn’t nearly as impressed by — in large part because he sounded just like Billy Bob Thornton in Sling Blade to me, complete with guttural gruntings, and I couldn’t stop waiting for him to interject suddenly something about “French fried pataters.”  Distracting.)

The problem is, despite fine acting and a fine script, there’s nothing about this movie that really stands out:  there wasn’t a visual that struck me, there wasn’t a line delivered in a way that stuck with me, there wasn’t a character who will remain with me for any significant amount of time.

This movie did not move me, I think is what I’m saying — it merely entertained me.  It is a fine film — and that’s it.

Which is okay, of course.  There’s nothing wrong with a good, entertaining movie — in fact, there are many things right about good, entertaining movies.  It’s just that after seeing the Coen brothers’ No Country for Old Men, which is, in many ways, also a Western, I was expecting something a lot more interesting.   I think many Western lovers felt the same way — and I can tell many film critics did.

Fans of the genre will find much to enjoy here, I think, and so, frankly, will non-fans (my husband liked it a lot more than I did, for example, and he’s not all that into Westerns).  It IS undeniably well-written, well-acted, and well-made.  It’s just that it’s a little too much “well” and not enough “wow.”

Now, off to watch A Fistful of Dollars for the 87-bazillionth time.  Dad, wish you were here.

[Prequeue at Netflix | View trailer]

Genre: Western
Cast:  Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper

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5 Responses to “MOVIE: True Grit (2010)”

  1. Trip Says:

    Yeah, pretty much sums up my verdict: good, but not great. I was really expecting great after, as you say, the original trailer. It was so awesome I literally quivered with delight at it.

    There were a few stand-out moments in it for me:

    * Dude in the bear suit.
    * The hang ’em high guy.
    * LaBeouf confronting Ned Pepper’s gang alone in the distance (felt real dread there).
    * Rooster Cogburn is so appropriately grimy, if the film was 3-D, you’d see stink lines radiating at you.
    * The cinematography, which was appropriately desolate, yet golden.

    There were moments that did NOT work for me. Mattie’s excessive badassed-ness, for a 14 year old girl. She rocked, but it was a bit too much for the times. The Shakespearean cadence of everyone’s dialogue. Did they all really talk like cornpone Harvard grads in the 1870’s?

    Another trend I’ve noticed in recent Coen brothers films: a hideous price must always be extracted in the end for whichever character has been behaving badly from their motivation…like Mattie Ross, Anton Chigurh, and most everyone at the end of Burn After Reading

    Again, it certainly was good, well-made, and I’d watch it again, no problem. But…man, that could have been a Western for the ages!

  2. Meg Says:

    As to the way the characters speak in the book and (both) films, I found this article interesting (and it sort of supports my gut-reaction to it — that it felt like an affectation not really representative of how people talked back then, and one that made the most sense in the book, which was being narrated (and therefore sort of “written”) by an older, very proper and stern woman, than in the films where the little girl and the criminals were actually talking that way themselves): http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=2873

    This wasn’t a huge deal for me at all, mind you. I really enjoyed the language in the Coen brothers’ film — it’s clever and sharp and witty and extremely nice to listen to. But something about Mattie’s character didn’t come across as authentic to me, and I think it was largely related to that. I’ve seen plenty of films about precocious children and NOT had this reaction, so something just wasn’t quite right here. FOR ME, anyway.

    I also enjoyed this article, which is about Portis’s language and the reason why his characters (in the book) talk the way they do: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/12/magazine/12FOB-WWLN-t.html. “Portis’s characters have a self-conscious manner, a homespun formality of speech, that comes from the effort to inhabit grandiose roles: lone avenger on a quest; nefarious outlaw; besieged moral exemplar.”

    I’m looking forward to reading the novel again soon — will post a review of it when I have, and may also watch the Wayne version of the film again this weekend so I can do a three-way comparison. Watch this space!

  3. Meg Says:

    Oh, and Trip, the bear suit guy was awesome. Definitely a stand-out. I didn’t find the cinematography all that interesting, myself, though. But I did like how we frequently were seeing things happen in the distance — this was a recurring element, I assume because Mattie was the narrator and not typically involved in a lot of the “grown-up” stuff.

    So, for example, the scene where they’re watching LeBeouf and Ned’s gang from a distance, the scene where she’s up in the tree watching Rooster and the guy who takes the body, etc. They did a great job of not breaking the perspective — we only saw and heard things Mattie saw (at least, I couldn’t think later of anything that broke that perspective). Nice work, there.

  4. Liz Says:

    OMG! i never thought the time would come when the Coen Bros. would produce a film that was “meh – s’awright.” I, too, expected this movie to be brilliant – and I’m not that much of a fan of westerns!

    I did see the original, though – but mostly to see … Glen Campbell (in the role Matt Damon has now)! What can I say? I was little, and a Glen Campbell fan (arrrgh)! I thought everyone in this re-make was going to be great – especially Jeff Bridges! Now I don’t know when I’ll see it, because Lee doesn’t even want to, and I’m not sure if I’m going to add it to my Netflix queue.

    BTW, it was the only time I ever liked John Wayne. I made Lee watch the whole original on TV, so we could hear one line that my whole family loved: “We’ll camp here!” says Rooster, when he falls off his horse. And the line was cut!!!

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