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The Coen brothers are known for being one of the best filmmakers of our
time. They both compliment each other perfectly. When I heard they were
remaking the 1969, John Wayne classic True Grit, I was extremely
excited and had incredibly high expectations of the film. Being a major
fan of Western movies, I was really interested how it would turn out. I
wanted the movie to be more faithful to it's original source material,
Charles Portis novel, than the 1969 film had been. I was also hopeful
that Jeff Bridges would fill the huge shoes of the classic, legendary
John Wayne. I was hoping that they would blend the humor of the
original 1969 film with some of the suspense or thrills from earlier
Coen brothers films like No Country For Old Men or Fargo. But not
become way too violent that it causes to stay completely unrecognizable
to Charles Portis classic novel.
After seeing the Coen brothers new film, I have to say. My extremely high expectations were surpassed. The movie actually surprised all the hype I had, what an incredible film. The atmosphere, clothing, and the buildings reminded me of the old classic Hollywood westerns they used to make. I had a feeling of nostalgia watching the movie through the end. I felt transported to another time period of the old western. Hailee Steinfeld was amazing in the movie, I truly believe that this is her breakout performance. Matt Damon and Josh Brolin were as usual amazing. But the true star of the film has to be Jeff Bridges, in all respects ( I don't mean to offend John Wayne or anything), I think Jeff Bridges did a better job than John Wayne in portraying Rooster Cogburn. His performance showed much more experience, strength and power, the performance was pretty much unforgettable. Jeff Bridges handily reinvents the iconic role of Rooster Cogburn in the Coen brothers' back-to-the-book-remake. I congratulate the Coen for bringing back the western genre, that Hollywood has ignored so much the last decade or so. I can't stress enough how much I recommend this movie to people.
Those of you who wonder why someone would remake a good film, need to withhold judgment until seeing this film. It was one of the most authentic westerns I've ever had the privilege of viewing, and I am a die-hard western aficionado, and true-west historian. The costumes, the buildings, the interiors, and the dialogue were so meticulously crafted that I felt entirely immersed in a world long since forgotten, and often misunderstood. The acting was unbelievable as you'd expect from such established, accomplished thespians, but Hailee Steinfeld was a revelation, holding her own, if not carrying the entire film on her relatively small shoulders. The Brothers Coen have justified their choice to adapt Charles Portis' novel, not remake the John Wayne classic. The impact, and visceral reality of life in such places and times, coupled with the abrupt, brutal violence is something you didn't fully grasp in the grandstanding, heroics of the 1969 version. I applaud the Coens for exercising restraint and understatement to allow the scenes and the situations to breathe and take there natural course. Overall, it was an amazing cinematic experience that truly transports the viewer to a very real and fully realized time and space that crackles with fire and true grit.
As is to be expected, the film has all the classic Coen flourishes,
first and foremost its use of language. The Coens have always been
impeccably tuned in to language and accents, from the most creative use
of swear words in The Big Lebowski and Burn After Reading to the
colorful, stylized prose of The Hudsucker Proxy and The Man Who Wasn't
There to the very distinct accents in Raising Arizona, Fargo, O
Brother, Where Art Thou? and No Country for Old Men. In classic Coen
fashion, the use of language is very much emphasized in True Grit. The
characters have a very distinct use of words, lifted right out of the
novel and, as it feels at least, right out of the time period the film
takes place in. Unlike something like Deadwood which features a very
modernized and stylized version of 18th century speak, the dialogue in
True Grit sounds completely authentic and, along with the impeccable
and accurate-feeling costume and set design, really adds to the realism
of the world True Grit creates. Accents are also very important the
harsh Southern drawl that the Coens have always been attracted to is
very prominent and plays a very large role in the film.
As has become expected of the brothers, especially in recent years, the film looks incredibly beautiful, mainly thanks to regular DP Roger Deakins' stunning cinematography. All of his trademarks are in place: harsh but very naturalistic lighting, washed-out colors, especially in the outdoor scenes, smooth camera movements, and just a generally beautiful palette he uses to paint the world of the film with. Also very prominent in the film is the beautiful score by Carter Burwell. It hearkens back to his more melodic work on the Coen brothers' earlier films, especially Miller's Crossing. Using themes from classic hymns from the time period of the film, the soundtrack, along with the language of the dialogue, helps add a very strong feeling of authenticity to the film. It is a beautiful piece of music: dramatic but not heavy- handed, whimsical but with a hint of darkness to it. These two long-time Coen collaborators, as well as the costume and set designers, with whom the Coens have also worked with many times before, all deliver top-notch work and show once again just how strong the power of long-term collaboration can be.
Other returning collaborators are a number of the cast members. The Coens seem to have grown distant from most of their long-time regular cast members (Jon Polito, John Turturro, John Goodman, Steven Buscemi, and others), but Coen regulars still make appearances in some of their recent work. In this case, it is "The Dude" Lebowski himself, Jeff Bridges, who makes his triumphant return in a Coen brothers film, filling the very large shoes of John Wayne, who gave an iconic performance as Rooster Cogburn in the first adaptation of True Grit, from 1969. Bridges brings his own unique style and sensibilities to the role, combining his drunken goofiness with the demeanor of a serious and very skilled hunter and lawman. It is a wonderful performance playing to all of Bridges' best abilities as an actor, and it is just a joy to watch. Also playing to his best qualities is Matt Damon, who delivers one of the loosest and most fun performances of his career as Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (or "La Beef", as he is referred to, by himself as well, in the film). Damon is clearly having fun with the role, although like Bridges, he, too, manages to find a very excellent balance between the humor and the seriousness and skill his character has. But the standout performance has to be newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, who beat out 15,000 other girls for the part. Open casting calls often provide disappointing results, as nonprofessional actors tend to be just that not professional. 14-year-old Steinfeld proves she is a talent to watch, though she totally commands the screen with her strong-willed, stubborn character, and manages to hold her own against Bridges, Damon and Josh Brolin, who makes a brief but memorable appearance later in the film. It is a fantastic, powerful performance that is an absolute joy to watch. I foresee great things from Steinfeld in the future.
Many people will be turned off by the straightforwardness of the storytelling in True Grit. I have already heard complaints that the film lacks poignancy. But that isn't what it lacks. What it lacks is irony. It's actually quite amazing to see a film so completely and utterly devoid of irony such as this one it seems like most films these days, including the Coen brothers' recent output, all carry this air of cynicism about them. True Grit hearkens back to a more classic form of plot and character-driven storytelling, and in that sense, it succeeds immensely. Ultimately, True Grit is a piece of pure entertainment and it is quite an entertaining film: thrilling, engaging, and very, very funny. I have read many opinions claiming that this "doesn't feel like a Coen brothers film," but its storytelling style and techniques actually remind me most of another classic Coen film, Miller's Crossing. That film was also completely stripped of irony and instead focused on telling a good old-fashioned yarn, nothing more, nothing less. So while True Grit is not one of the very best films in the Coen's oeuvre, it is still just a darn good film overall.
Near the end of October, I handpicked True Grit along with Black Swan
and The Fighter as three films that could potentially go on to become
the film of the year. Joel and Ethan Coen were reuniting with Jeff
Bridges after all in True Grit and that was exciting enough, but the
Coens managed to take a remake of a western from 1969 starring John
Wayne and give it a modern retelling without desecrating the original
in the process.
Mattie Ross (Steinfeld) will stop at nothing to gain revenge on Tom Chaney (Brolin), the man responsible for killing her father. She comes across a U.S. Marshall named Rooster Cogburn (Bridges) who is equally as drunk as he is reckless. As Mattie begins to make arrangements with Cogburn, she meets a Texas ranger named LaBoeuf (Damon) who's been tracking Chaney for months and is committed to capturing Chaney alive and bring him back to Texas to collect his reward money. Mattie begins to think she may have chosen the wrong man for the job once the trail to finding Chaney becomes cold, but sometimes fate intervenes and has a way of rectifying a dismal situation; what you so desperately seek is right under your nose.
Roger Deakins did a hell of a job with the cinematography in this film. The atmosphere in the film is just right to make it feel like this was shot forty years ago with the technology of today. The way the film is shot gives an authentic western feel that is impossible to ignore. The opening scene is a great example, as well. We fade-in to a light source slowly emerging on a black screen as the blurry scene slowly begins to focus and we're shown the first tragedy of the film. The lighting was also exceptional. Conversations around a campfire and in candle light have never looked so great. One of the more enjoyable aspects of the film is the use of snow. It always seems to be snowing whenever a character relevant to the story has either died or has been critically injured.
You spend most of the time in True Grit getting to know both Mattie Ross and Rooster Cogburn along with the brief relationship they had. We follow Mattie Ross as it's proved time and time again that she's incredibly intelligent for a fourteen year old and, unless guns are involved, is more than capable of taking care of herself. For her first film, Hailee Steinfeld is impressive in an extraordinary kind of way. Her stubborn attitude is portrayed in a way that makes Mattie come off as a strong woman character who is still too young to be saying or partaking in the events that unfold. Rooster Cogburn is another memorable character to add to Jeff Bridges resume that he portrays to drunken excellence. The one down side is that his rambling is incoherent at times. Imagine having a wad of snuff in one cheek and a mouthful of cotton balls in the other while trying to talk and that's how Cogburn sounds more often than not. But what you are capable of understanding is pretty brilliant whether Cogburn is telling a story from his past and letting his dry humor shine through, trying to convince LaBoeuf to let him rip out his tongue, or drunkenly trying to shoot cornbread he threw into the air to prove that he's a good shot, Cogburn is a rather colorful character that Bridges brilliantly portrays. One man that may get overlooked is Barry Pepper. He doesn't receive a lot of screen time as Lucky Ned Pepper, but he certainly makes a lasting impression with what little time he does have on screen.
True Grit is not chock full of gunslinging action and doesn't really get the adrenaline flowing until the latter half of the film, but what the film lacks in action is made up with longwinded and unintelligible ramblings of a colorful drunk, the heavy detailing of a young girl stopping at nothing to revenge her father's death, and a Texas ranger who spends his time trying to convince everyone that he deserves to be respected. The engrossing dialogue will put off some, but is probably the aspect of the film that drives it the most. Beautiful cinematography and incredible lighting certainly make the film look like a genuine western film while Jeff Bridges gives another performance that could see him get another Oscar nomination as Mattie Ross may get one her first time out. Despite the film being a little slow at times, everything else in the film is so fantastic that it certainly should be considered one of the last must see films of the year.
I am a fierce John Wayne fan. He was really great as Rooster in True
Grit. The new version is not the same movie as John Wayne's. Don't
compare the two. The story line's are similar, but that's it. This new
version is a whole new story than the one written for John Wayne. This
is a great movie, with truly great acting for all involved.
The 1969 movie was driven fully by Rooster Cogburn. This 2010 version is truly driven by Mattie Ross. The performances by Stienfeld, Bridges, and Damon shine. I would have liked to have seen Stienfeld and Damon against John Wayne. Bridges was terrific as Cogburn. The story was far better than I imagined it could have been.
I can't believe I said all this. I am one who absolutely hates re-makes. Like I said this is not the same movie.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
True Grit is not a remake, but a re-imagining. Narrated by Mattie Ross,
played by Hailee Steinfeld, who makes her feature film debut, we find
Mattie picking up the pieces following the death of her father at the
hands of Tom Chaney (Brolin). A headstrong girl, Mattie isn't looking
for a handout; she's looking for justice. She is directed towards
Rooster Cogburn (Bridges), a Federal Marshall whose reputation for
shooting his prisoners makes him the right fit for Mattie's cause.
She is discovered soon after by LaBoeuf (Damon) who is also looking for Chaney for a crime committed in Texas. Mattie's plan of riding off with Rooster and LeBoeuf are short lived when LaBoeuf refuses to go out into Indian territory with a "girl." Rooster, though reluctant at first, escorts Mattie into the territory.
Though I am not familiar with the novel with which it is based on, I would say that the Coens have done the story justice. Though you can't replace John Wayne's take on Rooster, Bridges gives a different, more rugged approach to the character. It wasn't "The Dude" or Bad Blake from last year's Crazy Heart. He was Rooster Cogburn the way the Coens wrote it. He doesn't step on Wayne's toes, but rather makes the character his own.
One upgrade from the original film (one of several) was Damon's portrayal of LeBoeuf. In the original, Glen Campbell played a much more cooperative LaBoeuf than Damon. Damon is more independent and clashes with Rooster more often. They're chemistry is much more believable and enjoyable.
Another major upgrade is the music. Though the original has the classic, big, sweeping score by Elmer Bernstein that many westerns of the day were accustomed to, it just didn't fit the story. It made is much lighter than it needed to be. Carter Burwell, whose previous work for the Coens is simply sublime, gives yet another stellar score, creating just the right mood and tempo. Rooster's charge at the end is accompanied by a wonderful piece of music that brings you right in the saddle with Rooster, guns-a-blazing, hollering and rooting for the good guys. Burwell's sense of both the time period and the mood of the film couldn't have been better.
Where would a Coen Brother's film be without some stunning visuals. Roger Deakins, whose work is up there with the best of the day, does a fantastic job capturing the sights of the wild west, in a way that films of the 50s and 60s couldn't do. The way sunlight coats the landscape, snow falling through the trees, and the shadows of a flickering fire are just moments that stand out.
Lastly we come to Joel and Ethan, who might be the finest pair of filmmakers working today. They are gifted in telling a story with images and dialogue. Though not working with an original work, still springs off of the screen. Not to mention the performances they get out of their cast is second to none. Everyone is on board for this picture, and it shows.
True Grit is a better film than the '69 version. The photography, supporting cast, and all around production is better. Still, I have no doubt that Rooster Cogburn will be remembered as John Wayne, I have to hand it to Jeff and the Coens for putting on a spectacular film, both a delight for the eyes and ears.
Few directors working today in America have mastered form like the
Coens, I discover this with every new film they make. True Grit is a
commercial film made to please but I don't see a compromise in the
making and it's still a distinctly Coen film if you pay notice. Try to
take out the Coen character from the film and the film breaks apart,
it's that tightly woven in the fabric of it.
A Coen film works for me in the face of it, but I'm always on the lookout for what goes on behind, for the unseen cogs that grind out the fates of their characters. As with No Country, I came to this film looking to see is there a statement on violence, does it happen in a certain way and is the universe indifferent to it, is life worth a damn?
This one here works very much like the Henry Hathaway film from '69, except everyone's better, where John Wayne played a character, Jeff Bridges plays a man, and even Barry Pepper betters my beloved Robert Duvall's turn as Ned Pepper. This probably won't do it for Jeff Bridges because we've been accustomed to expect a certain degree of po-faced seriousness from a great performance (he snarled and staggered in Crazy Heart but he was serious about it), but he's one of the great actors of our times and I find this again in his Rooster Cogburn. Clint Eastwood also fell from a horse in Unforgiven and couldn't shoot a tin can to save his soul, but Munny "was" a scumbag, Cogburn still is and I like that. I like the courtroom scene where it's gradually revealed that he won't only bushwack those he needs to bring to justice, he will lie to make himself out to be the hero.
Another interesting aspect here is how the concept of the gunslinger and the western with it has evolved. When John Wayne played Cogburn in the Hathaway film the reward for the audience was the smirk of watching John Wayne be that drunken failure. The casting mattered in our appreciation. In the remake, most comments seem to point out that it's a fairly traditional/entertaining western. The dastardly revisit of something that was revisionist in the 70's oddly seems to give, in our day, a traditional western. We've been accustomed to heroes who are not heroes, and maybe the erosion of that heroic archetype says something about the way we view the world now, as opposed to 30-40 years ago. Then we were beginning to realize that wars are not gloriously, justly won but survived and endured, now we know there is no clear struggle between dual opposites and have grown disenchanted as that knowledge has failed to prevent the same wars. Now we know there is stuff about the legends that don't make the print, or we are suspicious enough about legends to imagine them.
Is this a traditional western then? Watching True Grit through the eyes of the brass 14yo girl reminded me of Winter's Bone, another film from the same year. In both cases a young girl is determined to plunge herself in a dark world of hurt and walk a path fraught with perils on all sides to achieve a moral purpose, both films maintain an appearance of realism, but what I get from them is a magical fantasy. This becomes more apparent when Mattie falls in the snakepit, but what about the hanged men who are really hanged high? The Hathaway film, ostensibly based on the same material, missed that note and played out a straight western. The Coen film unfolds as a hazy dream of that West. Although I wished for more open landscapes, it makes sense then that film narrows our gaze and clouds the margins. Perhaps we are even seeing the film as Mattie relives the experience in her old age, an affair shaped by memory and time.
This is the marvellous touch effected by the Coens on the material; the minute recreation of the Old West as a historical place and the odd, incongruous moments found within it annihilate any authority over the material.
The epilogue is important in that aspect.
It's not only that Mattie's revenge didn't accomplish anything, that it was for her merely another practical inconvenience to be bargained, paid for, and settled, like her father's ponies and saddle or the service of the US Marshall before, but that she clings to the memory of it so fiercely. What's horrifying then is not so much the violence of the West but the idealization of that violence. The film closes in a time around the turn of the century, people like Cogburn roosted in Wild West shows for a cheering audience, and Mattie is one of the people who lived to tell the tales. Out of those tales, the western of John Ford and Raoul Walsh emerged to print the legend. In a roundabout fantastic way, the Coens give us the true account, the creation myth behind the western.
Let's get the comparisons with Henry Hathaway's version of the Charles
Portis novel out of the way. The Coen Brothers certainly knew that,
however much they want to 'go back to the source material,' their film
would play against Hathaway's version.
The Hathaway version, while tampering with details from the Portis original, remains strikingly true to its story and theme. This is most clear in the dialog - the decision not to tamper with Portis' language was decisive for the making of that film. The Coens' tampering with the novel is more subtle than Hathaway's film, but no less an interpretation.
Approaching the characters and composition of the Coens' version without reference to the Hathaway film apparently proved impossible. For instance, the shoot-out at the dug-out cabin was re-written for a night-scene, but the camera angles remain pretty much the high-elevation shots Lucien Ballard provided Hathaway, inter-cut with full body shots of people getting wounded and horses running (etc.)also similar to Ballard's.
Two performance stand out as striking examples of reference to the original film. Dakin Matthews seems to struggle mightily not to recreate Strother Martin's interpretation of the horse-trader Stonehill - and fails. Apparently Martin had the character down pat and there's nothing but to reproduce his interpretation. Far more to the point is Barry Pepper's interpretation of the desperate outlaw chief, Ned Pepper - it is pure Robert Duvall. Pepper can only match Duvall's self-aware determination - and he does - but he can't surpass it; nor can he find another interpretation to set off against Duvall's.
As for the Coens' own re-interpretation of the Portis novel, what was most noticeable to me were the minor points simply dropped out of the story telling. The most irritating to me were a pair of lapses that are interconnected and combine to make an important point about the characters. 1. We never get to see Mattie tell Rooster that Chaney has linked up with Ned Pepper (later Rooster does remark the fact, but how did he learn of it?); 2 We don't get to hear Rooster's remarking how he shot Pepper through the upper lip (because he was aiming at the lower lip). These two incidents combine to let the audience know that Cogburn's hidden agenda on the Chaney hunt is really Ned Pepper, he and Pepper have something of a feud going on - which information fills out the background detail for their final shoot-out. Except here we don't have that connection.
Finally, the whole Mattie - Rooster issue: many critics are saying that Mattie is more at the center here than in the Hathaway picture, which focused attention on John Wayne's Cogburn. Not true. When we add up screen time and lines of dialog, we discover that Mattie not only has as much time and dialog in the Hathaway film but it is in much the same proportion to Cogburn's as in this one. If most remember the Hathaway film as a 'John Wayne film,' that is due simply to Wayne's bravura performance.
Well, enough of the comparisons. Does the Coens' version measure up as film worth seeing on its own accord? Yes; we are presented here with a beautiful, frightening, amusing piece of 'Americana.' There are scenes approaching dream-like states, as in the meeting with the bear-man, and during Rooster's desperate drive to get Mattie to a doctor. Hailee Steinfeld is quite engaging, and Matt Damon develops an intriguing complexity that makes one wish he had more screen-time. Bridges' performance is the most problematic - Bridges plays Cogburn as a a kind of whimsical brute - as he rambles on with his life-story on the trail, we get the gnawing sense that, if we were not along for a dangerous manhunt and dependent on his abilities as a master man-hunter, Cogburn would be someone we would not like to know. This develops a distance between the audience and Cogburn that is actually rather on par for the Coens - there are no 'heros' in the Coen universe.
Perhaps that's a good thing here. Mattie in her experiences with the wild men of the old west has encountered something larger than her life on the farm could ever get her. These are men who make their own laws and are not bound to statutory codes or biblical decrees, and adapt their own law to the wilds of the frontier that surrounds them. Mattie is a confirmed church-goer with a good lawyer, and if she weren't so determined on her revenge, she would actually be impossibly small-minded and dull. This is a subtext to the novel that both films attempt to convey, but neither quite captures, because it's difficult for any film maker to admit that the central character of the story is the least interesting.
The age of such wild-men has passed. It is not that wild-men do not exist - wild-men show up quite frequently in Coen Brothers' films in contemporary settings - but now they are corrupted by moving outside the law and outside the commonplace, they grow sick and psychopathic. The killer in "Fargo" feeding the partner he's killed to a wood-chipper is as wild as one could get, but he is no longer larger than life, and evokes only the sickness at the heart of modernity, not any adaptation one would want to live with.
We look back at historical moments like those of the Old West because anything seemed possible to them, whereas very little is possible for us. But that might simply be a wishful delusion - and the Coens' clear suspicion that it is really determines the limits of what they accomplish here. They don't present the West as 'it really was,' nor do they present what we want from it, rather they present a disappointment with it. Rooster Cogburn is indeed 'larger than life,' but we wouldn't want to spend any more time with him than we do.
Just came back from seeing "True Grit." Now this is the kind of film that the average person goes to the movies to see. It was amazing, highly entertaining, suspenseful, funny, and had a great story line. Jeff Bridges was fantastic, as was Matt Damon. Josh Brolin was good too, the only problem is I didn't get to see enough of him. He is definitely an up and coming actor that I hope to see more of. However, the best acting in the entire film was done by Hailee Steinfeld. Hailee plays the role of Mattie Ross and she is incredible. She really is 14 and held her own with the likes of Damon, Bridges, and Brolin. This film was an excellent western and comedy. There were several times that the theater was filled with laughter. I will definitely see this film again and may even purchase the DVD.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Okay, I admit it. I have never had that much love for the Coen
Brothers' films. Even "No Country for Old Men", which I did enjoy, was
marred by its botched ending. Plus the original "True Grit" remains one
of my favourite westerns. So you can probably already guess where this
review is going. I'm sorry but once again I cannot square all the
praise this film has received and its subsequent Oscar nominations
against the film that I actually saw today.
To be sure, there are some good things in it. Hailee Steinfeld is excellent as Mattie Ross and looks nearer the age of the character in the Charles Portis novel (if perhaps a trifle too young). British cinematographer Roger Deakins provides his customarily excellent photography (perhaps he will finally win the Oscar that he is long overdue - his work on the 1993 version of "The Secret Garden" is stunning). The fact that Mattie loses her arm as the result of the rattlesnake bite (as per the novel) is more believable than the 1969 John Wayne version (although the Coens' handling of the snake pit sequence is stunningly inept and robs the scene of the tension it should have contained - as with any other things, the combination of the Elmer Bernstein's music and the editing make the 1969 handling of the same scene far more exciting).
I realise many people have a lot of passionate love for the Coens and their films and I may be a lone voice crying in the wilderness but I'm sorry, this has to be said. The Coen brothers are the cinematic equivalent of the Emperor's clothes. They are one of the most overrated filmmakers working today and the films they actually make do not merit all the lavish praise given to them. Jeff Bridges is a great actor but his interpretation of Rooster Cogburn does not hold a candle to John Wayne's (indeed the strong accent he gives the character makes it difficult to understand half the dialogue he utters). Matt Damon, another good actor, similarly suffers. It is hard to believe that in all the publicity for the film, the makers and stars have either claimed not to seen the 1969 version or claimed that the Wayne version was not very good. I'm sorry but you have to be kidding. The 1969 version is a classic film that will long outlast this "re-imagining". Still, in its own right, it's not a bad film and at least it isn't "The Ladykillers". But if this had been the film made in 1969, I'm not sure we'd still be talking about "True Grit" today.
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