Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Movie review: True Grit

With the 2010 remake of True Grit, Joel and Ethan Coen take on a childhood favorite. I read the eponymous 1968 Charles Portis novel when I was a teenager, and quite enjoyed it.  Portis wrote a clever tale:  well-paced, entertaining, and authentically delivered.

After seeing the new flick, it seems clear that the Coen Brothers have as much reverence for the book as do I.  True Grit, the movie (and not to be confused with the 1969 Henry Hathaway movie of the same name starring John Wayne and Glen Campbell) holds as true to the novel as any film based-on-a-novel that I have seen.  The Coens did a magnificent job of preserving the novel's wry humor and stony, dead-pan dialog.

True Grit is the story of 13-year-old Mattie Ross (debut performer Hailee Steinfeld) on a quest to seek justice for her murdered father in the frontier country near the Texas-Oklahoma-Arkansas locus in the years following the Civil War.  Mattie hires Federal Marshall Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), a man with "true grit," to find and apprehend Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin).  Chaney has fled into Commanche country and Mattie insists on accompanying Cogburn into the wilderness in pursuit.  The two are joined by Texas Ranger La Boeuf (Matt Damon) who is seeking Chaney for other crimes.  A grand adventure ensues, as seen through the eyes of a determined and indefatigable heroine.

Hailee Steinfeld did such a wonderful job with her debut performance that I have to imagine she has a bright career ahead of her.  (Ms. Steinfeld is 14 years old.)  Jeff Bridges is delightful as Rooster Cogburn; he's such a natural for the part that he scarcely seems to break a sweat doing it.  I can't really put my finger on what it was that I found lacking in Matt Damon's performance, but something was missing.  In the novel, La Boeuf was a bit of a flirt and a rascal.  But Damon's La Boeuf is somber, almost mournful.  Whatever.  It's a minor nit.  The cast performed well, top to bottom.
The film has all the hallmarks of excellence that I've come to expect from the Coens.  The sets and costumes seem authentic.  The lighting and music layer the mood deftly.  But True Grit is less distinctly a Coen Brothers flick than their other recent efforts (A Serious Man, Burn After Reading, No Country for Old Men).  I believe this is the result of their faithful adherence to the Portis novel.  The film is as close to a true and direct translation of art from one medium to another as one could hope to expect.

Some of the dialog is, in fact, line for line, transcripted from the book: 

"Fill yer hand, you son of a bitch!" cries Rooster Cogburn, riding straight for Lucky Ned Pepper and the gang, reins in his teeth, a pistol blazing in each hand.

I tell ya.  Coen Brothers.

1 comment:

"Shusli" Baseler said...

Kim Darby played the role in the original and her courage and determination inspired me from age 10 and on.