A Quickie With Lisa Marie: True Grit (directed by Joel and Ethan Coen)

True Grit is probably the most straight-forward film that has ever come from the irony-laced imaginations of Joel and Ethan Coen.  Perhaps that’s appropriate since the movie is essentially an homage to that most All-American of all movie genres, the western.

Taking place in 1878, True Grit tells the story of Mattie Ross, a 14 year-old girl (Hailee Stienfeld) whose father is killed by a drifter named Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin).  Tom flees into Oklahoma so Mattie goes to Ft. Smith, Arkansas and hires alcoholic, one-eyed U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to track Chaney down.  Cogburn agrees and teams up with a Texas ranger named LeBouef (Matt Damon) who is also looking to capture Chaney for an unrelated crime (and to pick an equally unrelated reward).  The three of them form an unlikely and uneasy alliance as they search the harsh wilderness for Chaney, who has hooked up with outlaw Ned Pepper (Barry Pepper).  Along the way, reality proves itself to be far less prosaic and ideal and justice turns out to be far less straight forward than Mattie had originally assumed.

As you might expect from a Coen Brothers film, there’s a lot of moral ambiguity on display.  Cogburn is a former outlaw who is mainly motivated by his own greed while LeBouef is an arrogant blowhard.  Meanwhile, the nominal villains often show more humanity than our “heroes.”  Even Tom Chaney appears to be more overwhelmed than evil.  This is a western where the “good guys” ambush their enemies and shoot them in the back.  Throughout the film, the Coens contrast the beautiful cinematography of Roger Deakins and Carter Burwell’s traditional score with the brutality and violence on-screen.

True Grit is a remake of a 1969 film and Jeff Bridges is getting a lot of attention for taking on a role that was originally played by John Wayne.  I haven’t seen the original film so I can’t say if Bridges gives a better performance than Wayne.  However, to be honest, Bridges probably gives the least interesting performance in the entire film.  I know that a lot of people are raving about his work here but I think those raves are more about the actor and less about the performance itself.  When people look back on this movie, they won’t remember Rooster Cogburn as much as they’ll remember Jeff Bridges wearing an eyepatch and slurring his words like your alcoholic cousin on the 4th of July.  Bridges gives a good enough performance but there’s nothing here that couldn’t have been done just as well (or better) by either Tommy Lee Jones or Joe Don Baker.

If anything, the movie belongs to Steinfeld who gives a wonderfully focused performance as Mattie and who serves as the perfect audience surrogate.  As the two main villains, Brolin and Pepper both give excellent performances and the fact that both of them are almost likable only serves to make them all the more effective as “bad” guys.

True Grit is a good movie because the Coen Brothers aren’t capable of doing any less.  Technically, it’s probably one of the best films of 2010.  Still, the movie left me vaguely disappointed.  For what it is — a straight genre piece — it’s a superior work of craftsmanship.  However, from the Coens, I’ve come to expect a bit more. 


8 responses to “A Quickie With Lisa Marie: True Grit (directed by Joel and Ethan Coen)

  1. Just got back from seeing this myself. Like the original I found the story to be a bit too tedious and a rather boring affair. Was held together by some fine performances and chemistry, as well as cinematography and humor. I think the Coens biggest mistake was following the original so closely, I wish they had really made it their own, and including a bit more of that violence and menace they can be known for. Still an enjoyable film.

    Great review, and thank god I’m not the only one who thought Jeff Bridges gave the least interesting performance.


  2. I have this in my top 5 for the year and I shall reveal where in the top 5 it’ll land once I finally gather my thoughts on my top 10 of 2010.

    This Coen Brothers remake of True Grit is their most straightforward work to date and I think some of the people who consider it weak do so because they’re expecting the usual Coen Brothers style they’ve become famous for. The moment they don’t see it then the shadow of disappointment looms its ugly head.

    When taken on its own merits True Grit is an excellent film with not a weak performance from the ensemble cast. I will agree with you in that Hailee Steinfield was the one who stood out the most. I’ve heard some people call her performance the second coming of young Jodie Foster and I can’t say I’d disagree with them, but I’ll reserve final judgment until she has more work under her.

    As for Jeff Bridges as Cogburn he makes the character his own and after awhile one doesn’t notice it’s Jeff Bridges up there on the screen but Rooster Cogburn. he’s work doesn’t transcends the character to iconic status the way Wayne did, but who could and I’m glad he shied away from trying to do Wayne and just work the role as he saw fit. But yes, he was the least interesting character which considering how strong this cast was shouldn’t be a negative on this film as a whole.

    I really hope the Brothers don’t return to their usual ways and continue to branch out to different genres. I wouldn’t mind them doing something in the scifi and horror genre. If Danny Boyle can do it then I think the Coens (who I think are better than Boyle by a large margin and who have horror as their early break in filmmaking) could add something fresh to two very difficult genres to pull off something great.


    • It not being the typical Coen style wouldn’t have been so much of a problem with me if the original story and tone just wasn’t so damn boring at times. That is just how I felt of course, but I think given a lot of the better elements of this, mixed with what they are known for, the final product would have been much more interesting. I just think any old director could have come along and remade this just as good, but they could have done something really special but straying away from the more straight forward western approach and making one a bit more dark then we are used to seeing.


  3. Pingback: Lisa Marie’s Top 26 Films of 2010 | Through the Shattered Lens

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