“I am struck that LaBoeuf is shot, trampled, and nearly severs his tongue, and not only does not cease to talk, but spills the banks of English!”
“You must pay for everything in this world, one way and another. There is nothing free except the grace of God.”
“Time just gets away from us.”
When I first heard of the Coen Brothers remaking “True Grit”, I thought this seemed an odd choice given their filmography. Of course they had done a remake before with “The Ladykillers” but that 1955 film was relatively not well known. “True Grit” was previously made in 1969 by director Henry Hathaway and featured the iconic legend John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn. Wayne, my dad’s hero, won the Best Actor Oscar for that portrayal. So in 2010, the Coen’s remade a popular movie “True Grit” well after the Hollywood western genre had faded from popularity? Well, yes.
It has been a long while since I have seen John Wayne’s “True Grit” and I have never read the book by Charles Portis (although I’m curious to do so) which leaves me in the position not to compare the Coen’s work with the previous material. The reporting is that the Coens adapted the material as screenwriters more directly from the book then the 1969 movie did. All of that being said, “True Grit” 2010 is a solid film that is entertaining to watch and is probably the most commercially assessable film of the Coen’s since “Intolerable Cruelty”. Indeed, the movie grossed $171,031,347 at the box office (per imdb) which is a mammoth hit by Coen standards.
The storyline is incredibly straightforward. A young girl of 14 years, Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) hires an infamous, aging US Marshal (Cogburn) and an assistant Laboeuf (Matt Damon) in tracking her father’s killer deep into Indian territory which leads to conflict and the inevitable western shoot outs. As I mentioned previously, the film is very entertaining and engrossing.
One of the reasons why are the performances. Jeff Bridges (returning to the Coen canon for the first time since “The Big Lebowski”) takes up the reins as Rooster Cogburn. Bridges plays Cogburn like a homeless bum with a considerable amount of street skill in tracking and using a weapon. Donning the iconic eye patch, Bridges gives a hell of a performance with a helping of lines and reactions to situations that are funny.
Almost stealing the show and having a high degree of chemistry with Bridges was newcomer Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross. Portraying a 14 year old, she is fierce and determined to enact retribution against Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) for murdering her father.
The Coens have always been known for having high production values and they really show off their skills in this movie. The desert landscapes, largely shot in Texas at the hand of the legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins, are bleak but have an eerie sense of beauty (sort of like “No Country for Old Men”).
The problems with the film are, for the most part, minor but definitely threatened my suspension of disbelief. Coincidences happen with characters meeting each other and then some cliché moments where a hero shows up at the last possible moment in order to save another character. Most of these issues are in the third act and they are noticeable because the Coens have built such a sense of realism leading up to the climax. Perhaps I’m being a little hard on this film because the project is such an example of straightforward genre storytelling and I have come to expect a high degree of originality from the Coens. If Coen fans love to expect the unexpected when seeing their movies, Joel and Ethan Coen threw their fans for a loop by remaking a standard studio motion picture but one that is professionally crafted and fun.
That brings me to the epilogue which is brilliant. Leave it to the Coens to have justice served triumphantly at the end of their western but then turn the proceedings melancholy. The character, Mattie Ross, is the narrator and at the tail end we see her older. She is trying to track down older Cogburn who had helped her all those years ago. The final monologue is indeed sad and features the closing line, “Time just gets away from us.” My take on this is that Mattie Ross went on this high adventure with Cogburn and Laboeuf but nothing else in her life after that would ever match or live up to that time. So the years, as they tend to do, slip away.
Lester Lauding Level: 4 (out of 5)
Ranking of Coen Bros Movie (so far):
No Country for Old Men (review here)
Fargo (review here)
A Serious Man (review here)
O Brother, Where Art Thou? (review here)
The Big Lebowski (review here)
Miller’s Crossing (review here)
The Hudsucker Proxy (review here)
Raising Arizona (review here)
Burn After Reading (review here)
The Man Who Wasn’t There (review here)
Blood Simple (review here)
Barton Fink (review here)
Intolerable Cruelty (review here)
The Ladykillers (review here)