Saturday, February 12, 2011

True Grit

Alternate Title:  The Dude, the Bad, and the Ugly

One sentence synopsis:  A teenage girl hires a US marshal and a Texas Ranger to track down her father's murderer.

Things Havoc liked:  There's a reason I started with this one.  I've never yet seen a Coen Brothers' movie I didn't like, nor for that matter a Jeff Bridges movie I didn't like.  Neither one of them did me wrong here.  The movie is brilliantly shot, gorgeous (a requirement with westerns), and extremely well written, with that crazy semi-high-register dialogue that I loved from Deadwood and other modern westerns.  The acting is uniformly excellent.  I was afraid Jeff Bridges might try to play John Wayne playing Rooster Cogburn, but instead he plays the character as a slurring, ornery, dangerous bastard who is nevertheless a hell of a lot of fun to watch.  People seemed to give Matt Damon shit in the reviews I saw for not being the equal of the rest of the cast, but honestly, this is the best thing I've ever seen him do.  It was certainly the only time I can remember where I didn't think I was watching Matt Damon, rather than his character.  His ranger is witty, put upon, and hilariously incompetent at times.  The villains are also well done.  Josh Brolin has very little time on screen, frankly, but Barry Piper, surprisingly, turns in a great performance as a gang leader and stage robber who does what he has to, but without seeming either evil or stupid.  One really gets the sense that not only do all the participants in these events know one another well, but that the question of who is the good and bad guy is somewhat circumstantial.

But the key performance is Halee Steinfield, who simply blows everyone else off the screen in almost every scene.  What she's doing in the Best Supporting Actress category for the Oscars is entirely beyond me, as she's in every single scene of the movie, and clearly the main character of it.  Not enough star power I guess.  Seriously though, the scene of her haggling with the horse trader left me laughing out loud, as did the brief reprise.

Things Havoc disliked:  When one goes to see a Coen brothers' movie, one expects a certain right angle style.  Fargo, Oh Brother Where Art Thou, The Hudsucker Proxy, and No Country for Old Men all had a sort of strange style to them which felt like reality had been tilted slightly.  Odd characters with strange agendas did weird things because their world was just slightly out of alignment enough to permit those things to pass as normal.  In this movie, the Coens seem to rely on the oddness of the story (a 14-year old girl hiring bounty hunters to track a killer) to provide that tilt.  It doesn't.  The movie certainly isn't bad, but it does seem a bit pedestrian, given everything.  It's a bunch of excellent actors and great directors effortlessly nailing material that is frankly a bit beneath them.  It almost feels like the Coens are selling themselves short on this relatively formulaic and lightweight western.

The pacing of the movie was a bit slow as well at times.  Some sequences (like the one with the hanging body) really never go anywhere, and seem to have been included for no reason.  The denouement is satisfying to a point but somewhat contrived (I understand it's the same as the book's, but that's really no excuse).  Overall though, while there are no major flaws, nothing really elevates the movie into greatness, nor do the events that take place seem to have much in the way of major meaning, even to the characters themselves.  As such, it doesn't reach the heights of excellence that I've seen these directors and actors reach.

Final thoughts:  By no means is this a bad movie.  The acting is superb, the writing sharp as nails, the directing sure and confident, and the cinematography sweeping and epic, as any western should be.  Given those things, what more can one really ask for?  Well, one can ask for a film of greater weight and high concept, as this movie just isn't about anything important enough to merit all of these wonderful assets it has.  Nevertheless, I enjoyed the hell out of it, and would see it again.

Final Score:  7.5/10

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