I love westerns. I love the Coen brothers. That’s why I had such high expectations for True Grit, the remake of the John Wayne classic. Well, all my expectations were answered, and True Grit was my favorite movie of the year.
Like I said, I love westerns. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is probably my favorite movie of all time. There’s just something about the characters, setting, and music in a western that makes it one of my favorite genres. It’s been a long time since a great western has come out, the last one I really enjoyed was Unforgiven, and that was twenty years ago. If no more westerns ever come out, True Grit was an excellent sendoff to the western. It has all the familiar parts of western movies: great setting, great characters, great music, etc, and is fresh and enjoyable to today’s movie going audience. Even though it is a remake, and the plot did not change drastically, the movie still has its own identity, and is a great ode to the genre at the same time.
True Grit is about a 14 year old girl named Mattie Ross whose father was murdered in 1877 Arkansas. The murderer, Tom Chaney, has fled and there is little chance the law can do anything to catch him. In order to track him down she enlists the help of Rooster Cogburn, a U.S marshall that has “True Grit.” A Texas Ranger named La Boeuf also joins the posse, and the trio set out to catch Chaney and bring him to justice. Along the way they learn about each other and which one of them really has “True Grit.”
The best part of the movie was the characters, which is because of the strong performances by each of the actors. Elizabeth Marvel did an excellent job with Mattie Ross. Even with co-stars named Bridges, Damon and Brolin, she shines the most. Matt Damon’s La Boeuf was also excellent. Halfway through the movie La Boeuf is injured by outlaws and almost bites his tongue off. For the rest of the movie, Damon carries on the slurred and muffled speech of someone with a hurt tongue. This is a relatively small part of the role but it does wonders making the character and movie immersive. I can name a few other movies where characters are injured and magically feel no effects ten minutes later, which hurts the realism. Damon’s acting makes sure this doesn’t happen.
Even Josh Brolin, with his 10-15 minutes of screen time as Tom Cheney, makes the character memorable. Immediately after the movie I wondered why the Coen brothers used Brolin for a 10 minute part, as Brolin is a big name actor. After a while, I realized Brolin is one of the few actors that could make the character memorable with such a short time to work with. I went from hating him, to feeling sorry for him, to wanting to see him dead in the short time he was on screen, which is a testament to Brolin’s ability.
That leaves Jeff Bridges. It must have been very daunting to step into the role that the legendary John Wayne won an Oscar for, but Bridges did an amazing job. Most importantly, he did not do a John Wayne impression the whole time, but made the character his own. Throughout the movie, and after, I could not help thinking about the Godfather and how the character Vito Corleone is the only role that two different actors (Marlon Brando for Part I and Robert Deniro for Part II) won Oscars for playing. I’m not saying Bridges will win, but he will definitely be nominated.
Even the minor characters did an excellent job connecting with the audience. Everyone from “Lucky” Ned Pepper to the silent Native American to the corpse buying, pelt selling man dressed in Bear skins contributed to the great acting and continued the momentum from start to finish.
The Coen brothers also did an excellent job. Their shots of the open scenery of the west and the cinematography in general was top notch. Even though they did a great job, I was dissapointed in a few areas. First, True Grit is not really a Coen film. With almost all their other work, you can tell who made it, as it oozes the Coen style. With True Grit, it is not really there. Some may argue that this is not a terribly bad thing, and they may be right, but I would have liked to see more of their style in the movie.
Another thing was the pacing. The start of the movie felt slow, while the ending was lightning quick. I have no problem with the slow beginning, as it acquanted us with the plot, the characters and the setting in a very good way, but I would have liked to see the last third of the movie drawn out just a little more. It was probably a conscious decision to ramp up the pacing towards the end to make an exciting finish, but the movie introduced and followed the characters with such care that I would have liked to see this treatment continue to the end of the movie. I left the theater wanting more. Come to think about it, that is probably the best thing to come out of a movie saying.
Also, the Coen brothers finally nailed an ending. This has been one of their criticisms, but this time they nailed it. I won’t give it away, and it isn’t an earth shattering one, but it was the perfect place to finish the movie.
The movie’s writing was also top notch. The Coen brothers fit every 19th century saying and manner of speech into the movie, truly immersing the audience into the time period. They also did the same with the movie’s score, sometimes classic western tunes, sometimes haunting church music.
Overall, I loved this movie. As a western fan I was completely fulfilled. This movie is now in my top ten in that genre. As a Coen fan, I was a little dissapointed and completely happy with the movie at the same time. If you are a fan of either, you must see this film. Even if you are not, this movie will win you over. I went to see the movie with my family and they all enjoyed it. From my mom, who went in saying she did not like Jeff Bridges to my younger sister who does not really care for westerns, they all enjoyed the movie, and you probably will too.