I never saw the original True Grit. I gather its something of a classic? I don’t know, I guess old movies in general really don’t do it for me. A real film critic could never say that, but a Stoney Film Critic is all about lazy admissions. The old stuff isn’t my cup of tea. Maybe its the production values. Or maybe I’ve just never made the effort. I sort of tried to get into Hitchcock at one point, but it was half-assed and never took. When it comes down to it my experience with anything before 1980 is extremely limited. I realize this isn’t very cool.
I considered checking out the original first, but that seemed a poor strategy for reviewing the reboot. I deemed it best to go in fresh. A wise decision. Knowing the plot and outcome beforehand could only have lessened my enjoyment.
When I discovered the film’s protagonist was a 14-year-old girl, I was disappointed. I almost never like child actors. They usually annoy me, and if not I’m indifferent. “The kid wasn’t that bad” is pretty much the ceiling. Or it was, anyway. I thoroughly enjoyed newcomer Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross. I’m not going to throw out words like masterful or brilliant, because that would seem silly when applied to a fourteen-year-old. What I will say is that I highly doubt they could’ve found anyone better for this role. It was clear from the beginning this girl was going to get it done. And she actually got better as the film went along. It was impressive. I really enjoyed her performance, and was definitely rooting for her character.
I’m a bit of a sucker for modern westerns in general. I enjoyed Unforgiven, Apaloosa and 3:10 to Yuma, I liked both Tombstone and Wyatt Earp*, I was one of Deadwood’s few fans, and Jesse James is one of my favorite movies of all time (does that count as a western?). Even a piece of shit like The Quick and the Dead is OK in my book. And of course I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the grand-daddy of them all, Wild Wild West. I mean we all loved that one, right? I was so inspired when I first saw it I wrote scripts for three sequels and sent them to Warner Bros. post-haste. Negotiations broke down over my demands that Will Smith be replaced with Ice Cube and Roman Polanski be brought in to direct. I had a vision, and I stuck to it. The project is currently in remission.
*I know Costner has become a total clown and that colors every movie he was in, but my boy Denny Quaid did a fine job as Doc Holliday in Wyatt Earp. It’s not his fault he had to be compared with one of the greatest acting performances of my generation.
Where was I? Oh yeah, modern westerns. I like them. I knew I’d probably like True Grit. What I didn’t know was just how much I’d like it. I’ve seen over 30 movies in the theater this year, and this was easily one of the best. Probably top 3. Definite Oscar material.
What made it so good? This might sound like an easy answer, but I think it was the acting. And not just the aforementioned Steinfeld. Everyone was believable. Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper. Even the bit parts were consistently well done. The Coen Brothers really impressed me with their attention to detail. I go back and forth on them, but this was a definite score. I’ll be seeing their next movie for sure.
Bridges is hot right now, and I don’t quite know how to feel about that. Crazyheart didn’t do anything for me. In fact, I was pretty turned off by it without really knowing why (Gylenhaal?). So I was ready to hate on Bridges here if I felt he was receiving undue praise. He wasn‘t. Rooster Cogburn was a classic character, and Bridges played him perfectly. To say otherwise would be hating just to hate.
As good as Bridges was, to me Damon was even better. He wasn’t given nearly as much to work with. I mean, Bridges just had to act like a grizzled badass. He did it well, but it was probably pretty easy. Damon had his work cut out for him. His character, LaBoeuf, must’ve been very hard to get right. He had to be a tough Texas marshal capable of tracking down outlaws and camping under the stars, but also a total square. Basically, the Wild West’s version of a dork.
I don’t think there are a lot of guys who could’ve pulled that off; but pull it off he did. So much so that by the end he was far and away my favorite character. I laughed at him, I respected him, and I ended up really cherishing his screen time. This performance definitely improved my opinion of him. I’ve always been more of an Affleck supporter. Ironically, sure, but I actually do like him. Maybe now I like Damon too? I might have to put the clamps on that though. Saying “I prefer Affleck” whenever anyone mentions Damon is one of my favorite bits. Has been for…..10 years?
Neither the cinematography nor the score blew me away, but both served their purpose very well. The Coen Brothers definitely know how a good period piece should feel. I’d like to see them tackle an older time period. Renaissance, middle ages, classical, I’d gladly take any of it. I know Americana has pretty much been their bag thus far, but if they ever want to do another remake a foreign film would be a great move for them. So much cred.
I gushed a bit here. What can I say, its been a tough few months at the cineplex for your boy Big Hatt. I assumed The Fighter would be the one to re-energize me, but it turns out True Grit rode in on the white horse. I’m just glad somebody did.
It seemed silly to discuss the plot given that this was a remake, but I did want to touch on the ending briefly. It was awesome. The moment when Mattie finally shoots Tom Chaney was triumphant, Rooster saving her life was touching, and her final recollections are bittersweet. And none of it was corny. Bravo, Coen Brothers, bravo.