Sunday, January 9, 2011

True Grit (2010) Review

The Coen Brothers (Joel and Ethan) have earned great respect in the world of film. Their movies Fargo (1996) and No Country for Old Men (2007) are masterpieces. Producer Steven Spielberg needs no introduction as his works are legendary. So when the Coen Brothers decided to direct and make a film based on "True Grit", a novel by Charles Portis with Spielberg producing, one would think nothing could go wrong. And it's not like the Coen Brothers have never done a western. No Country for Old Men is western noir. But like Ted Williams even the Coen Brothers are allowed to strike out on occasion. They have one big problem in making this film, the John Wayne 1969 version.

True Grit is the story of Mattie Ross, (Hailee Steinfeld) a 14 year old girl who is determined to avenge the murder of her father by Tom Chaney. (Josh Brolin) When informed of a list of bounty hunters who could chase and find Chaney, she chooses the one with meanest reputation, U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn. (Jeff Bridges) Along the way she meets LaBouef (Matt Damon) a Texas Ranger who is also looking to get Chaney.

The big problem with this film version of True Grit is that it's not cinematic. The Coen Brothers decided to be more faithful to the novel and that's the problem. Filming night action scenes are always a problem because the audience can't see clearly what's going on. The color in the film is drained or muted probably to give the movie an old feel. None of that is cinematic.

The music is huge problem for this version. The Coens have decided to go with Carter Burwell. Their strategy was to use nineteenth century hymns and folk tunes. The result? Perhaps more realistic but dramatically, it's a disaster. The music doesn't drive the movie, it hinders it by it's dour approach. This approach which is exactly the opposite from Elmer Bernstein's rousing score for the 1969 film. And it depresses the Coens' film.

As for the acting, Hailee Steinfeld is fantastic as the determined Mattie. Jeff Bridges is okay as Cogburn, except he mumbles his words to the point at times, I couldn't understand him. Matt Damon as LaBouef is as dry as Glen Campbell was in the 1969 version.

It's probably film heresy to give a Coen Brothers film a negative review. There's no doubt as to which movie version is the best. It's the the 1969 film starring John Wayne. This 2010 version gets the grade of C+.

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