True Grit (2010)
(15) Running time: 110 mins
Reviewed by: Matt Wavish, official HCF critic
The Coen Brothers never cease to amaze me, churning out pretty much a film a year, and each one a work of brilliance and class, you wonder just how much more good work these boys can offer. Is it really possible that their new film will be better than their last? A Serious Man was great but not perfect, however Burn After Reading was superb and No Country For Old Men was sheer class, so i will compare True Grit to No Country… and tell you now that the Coen’s have delivered yet another masterpiece. I have never seen the original True Grit starring John Wayne, but i understand it was, and still is, a popular film. From what i have read though, the Coen’s have stayed extremely faithful to the book it is based on, but have added that Coen magic. Apparently the script is very close to the book too, however there are scenes here which come right out of the Coen’s weird and wonderful world and could only have been written by them!
Newcomer Hailee Steinfeld is a mere 14 years old, and this being her first film you will be absolutely astonished at how good she is. You will instantly forget that this is a 14 year old playing the part, she oozes confidence and does not look threatened or intimidated by the cast of top class actors. She plays Mattie Ross, a young girl who witnessed her Father being gunned down and murdered by outlaw Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin). Let me just clear up something in the story that I probably should have mentioned at the start, this is a Western based in the 1800’s, and so now when I go on about horses and guns and whiskey and outlaws and Texas Rangers, you will get the gist. Angry about the fact no sheriff or lawman will do anything to hunt her Father’s killer, Mattie goes off in search of someone who will. In a nearby town lives Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), a lawman with an excellent, if dodgy reputation for getting his man. Ignoring Mattie because he is on the toilet, we are quickly introduced properly to him as Mattie witnesses the one eyed drunk giving his testimony in court over the killings of a few family members. Having already killed half this family, it all seems a bit suspect, and it most certainly seems that Rooster is a bit trigger happy. Meeting Rooster for the first time is both hilarious and a bit of a challenge on the ears, as Bridges mildly reprises his “Dude” role with a cowboy accent so strong, it’s difficult to catch ever word! Having said that, the fact he is so difficult to understand makes for some truly inspiring comedy, and Bridges looks as if he’s having a ball. In a scene at his house, he is a bit drunk (as usual) and tries to walk around Mattie (who has come to visit), he stumbles and seems to knock everything over before getting sausages tied around his head and then finally collapsing in his sort of bed. It sounds slapstick, but it’s not, this is the Coen’s at their genius best, with incredibly subtle humour that, in the right frame of mind, will have you near pissing yourself.
Mattie is good with words, and in a scene up there with the brilliance of No Country For Old Men’s coin toss scene, she barters with a rich man over him giving her money back for the horses she sold him. She out manoeuvres him, confuses him and threatens him into giving her a small fortune, which she uses to bribe Rooster into helping her. The promise of money is too much for him to turn down, although, a sweet relationship does unfold between the two which, at times, is very touching indeed. There is proof, along this brilliant story, that this trigger happy, fat drunk with one eye does have a heart, and Bridges portrays the sensitive side very well, never becoming too sentimental or nauseating. Matt Damon turns up in town, he is Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (pronounced La Beef) and he has no trouble with reminding people he is a Texas Ranger. Another of the Coen’s brilliant humour is you pick up on the fact he says he is a Texas Ranger many times in the film, and in a scene where he is on his own facing four outlaws, we watch from a distance. Rooster and Mattie are up in the hills at night, waiting for the outlaws, but LaBoeuf turns up. Facing his potential killers, if you listen carefully, you can hear him mention to them the fact he is a Texas Ranger about three times! As i said, with all great Coen comedy, if you’re in the mood, it tickles funny bones you never imagined you had, and you find yourself questioning just why you find something as simple as a guy telling someone he is a Texas Ranger so funny, but that’s the Coen’s for you! So, LaBoeuf is also hunting Chaney for the murder of a Lawman from Texas, and he joins the party because he knows Chaney better than anyone “so why haven’t you caught him yet, and how come you let him kill my Father?” is Mattie’s answer to that claim. LaBoeuf’s knowledge of Chaney, and Rooster’s determination should be a match made in heaven at catching this outlaw, but proves anything but as the two bicker and try to prove their man-hood in front of poor Mattie who just wants justice. It makes for some compelling and hysterical viewing. With a backdrop of stunning and beautiful scenery, peaceful and tranquil you get these two guys arguing and Rooster usually drunk. One hilarious scene see’s Rooster unable to walk, and barely stand but needs to prove he can shoot and so starts throwing their snacks in the air and shooting them like clay pigeons, only for LaBoeuf to out shoot him every time. Moments like this happen often and whether the original is a serious film or not, this version balances light comedy, drama and good old fashioned Western perfectly.
In another scene that had me near falling off my couch with laughter, Rooster is waffling on at LeBoeuf after he is accused of shooting the Ranger in the shoulder. Rooster you can barely understand, and for reasons i won’t share now, LaBeouf has had half his tongue cut up, and so he can barely speak either. Hearing the two of them share a conversation that makes little sense, but is said with such anger and determination to get their points across is brilliant! As with all Coen films, the story is great, the characters, the comedy the music, but they always manage to add the odd bit of gut wrenching violence as there are a few scenes on offer here that come out of the blue and truly shock. But it’s the story that grips from start to finish, and boy can the Coen’s tell a story. I found myself mesmerized from beginning to end and the film hit all the right emotive notes. Bridges, Damon and Steinfeld are superb together, and when Josh Brolin comes into the film as well, you simply could not wish for a better cast to be on screen together. Brolin comes with his own bunch of bandits, all hilarious and disturbing in their own way, one guy seems obsessed with making animal noises! Speaking of animals, there is a scene which I believe the Coen’s must have added themselves where Rooster and Mattie are suspect that they are being followed. Rooster’s plan is to just stop in the woods and wait for whoever it is that is following, and after a long wait, a man appears on horseback, dressed head to toe in a bear skin! In a truly bizarre scene, with the snow falling over the woods, he proceeds to explain to them how he is a dentist. Only in a Coen film would a scene like this be so fitting, so strange and so hilarious.
True Grit is a film that has everything, it may not be to everyone’s taste, but for those who love the Coen’s there is much to enjoy here. This ticks all the boxes you’ve come to expect from their movies, it shows Jeff Bridges, Josh Brolin and Matt Damon having the time of their lives while perfectly balancing comedy and tragedy, the film is funny, heartbreaking, touching, action packed, dramatic, at times other worldly but always it feels like a work of art, a work of genius and yet another Coen’s masterpiece.
[pt-filmtitle]True Grit 2010[/pt-filmtitle]