True Grit Review (Spoiler Free)

Friday, February 04, 2011 Craig Grobler 0 Comments

True Grit ReviewGrowing up there was a very clear lineage of great Hollywood Cowboys; Tom Mix, Gary Cooper, Alan Ladd, John Wayne, Clint Eastwood. So when I heard that Ethan and Joel Coen were remaking True Grit - generally accepted as one of the great westerns and a pinnacle role for John Wayne. I wasn’t really surprised - given their varied and interesting body of work I have come to expect to be constantly surprised by the Coen Brothers.

I was however a little saddened like many of you I find the original True Grit dated but still a valued piece of cinema history and chances are that a Coen Brothers remake/reboot of True Grit would forever overshadow one of John Wayne’s crowning and final achievements - thereby denying future generations a piece of cinematic history. I sort of enjoyed the original True Grit but too be honest it mostly came down to my father enjoying it a lot and me filling in the gaps with my own pantomime - less story, as kids do.

I also started wondering if the Coen’s True Grit would be True Grit only in name and a completely different film? Or would it be an extension of the True Grit universe and feature Rooster Cogburn in a new original adventure similar to the 1975 sequel to True Grit - Rooster Cogburn? Or would it be a frame by frame remake of the original similar to Gus Van Sant’s Psycho? All well within the realm of reason given that the Coen Brothers were involved. In the end I thought I would just wait and see - as building expectations for a Coen Brothers film could end on either side of the spectrum.

When I found out Josh Brolin was onboard as well as Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn I was a lot more excited. Josh Brolin in No Country for Old Men left me wanting to see more and Jeff Bridges in form - is a thing of beauty. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who has been waiting since The Big Lebowski to see Jeff Bridges and the Coen Brothers re-team. The addition of Matt Damon can only be a good thing. That combined with the Coen Brothers had me quietly anticipating some movie magic.

True Grit ReviewI try steer clear of trailers and visual media for upcoming features as they can ruin my expectations of a film as well as give away far too much than is good for my viewing pleasure. But I couldn’t resist a peek at the True Grit trailer when it came out.

True Grit - Trailer 1
A quick scan shows us that we could be heading back to the original source material. It’s the story of Mattie Ross and her quest for justice after her father, a peaceful man is gunned down and it looks pretty good. Great cast, compelling dialogue, stunning visuals and some quick shots of Jeff Bridges emulating John Wayne’s iconic scenes from the original True Grit. And the trailer telling us that True Grit is all about revenge.

True Grit - Trailer 2
Then late last year True Grit Trailer 2 comes out and I get to see it on the Big Screen.

Holy Cow!

The trailer was a little longer than the first one with added bits of Jeff Bridges looking all dark & vengeful under a kick-ass soundtrack. Seeing it on the big screen I’m taken by how precise and stunning the visuals are. How awesome the sound is, not just the bassfull Johnny Cash’s God’s Gonna Cut You Down track but the on point dialogue. My anticipation levels shoot right up.

This is what I wrote back then:

Nothing I say about True Grit is going to change anything. Expect to be swept away by the sheer awesomeness of the Coen Brother’s remake of the John Wayne classic. If they gave out Oscars for film trailers True Grit would be leading the nominations. It’s a bit sad that the Coen’s remade True Grit it was always synonymous with Western legend John Wayne for me, sort of his last real cowboy hurrah. The remake will in effect relegate John Wayne to the retirement home of film late night and daytime TV.

Having said that the trailer is astounding and I can’t wait. Jeff Bridges as a cranky cowboy, solid supporting cast and the Coen Brothers. Days later and Johnny Cash’s God’s gonna cut you down is still ringing in my ears. Class.
Which brings me to the screening of True Grit I was lucky enough to see earlier this week. I’m not going to beat around the bush - True Grit is brilliant, a masterpiece and I would say instant classic if the Coen Brothers have been making films for the last 27 years, so instead it is a very well considered classic from filmmakers at the top of their craft.
True Grit The Establishing Shot
It starts with the young Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) narrating the tale of how her righteous father was gunned down in a trading town by a farmhand - when he good naturedly tried to intervene in a tense saloon situation. The deviant Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) then robs him off his 2 gold pieces and cash before heading out of town. Leaving a grief hollowed widow and three fatherless children. We pick up the story when the young Mattie and her guardian arriving in the trading town to pick up her father’s body and return him home.

That could have been the end of the tale but the young Mattie Ross, is not satisfied with the seeming lack effort put into bringing her fathers killer to justice. So she sets about to ensure that Tom Chaney is brought in. The visuals in getting us to this point are exactly what you would expect from the Coen Brothers in top form, but what stays with me the most is the sharp dialogue and use of period language. Not only does it lift performances but immerses us very quickly in the wild west of the 1800s.

The sharp as a whip Mattie then goes about hiring the right person to capture Tom Chaney and bring him to justice, which brings us to the cantankerous, mean as a rattle snake, alcoholic, trigger fingered Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges). They are joined by LaBoeuf – pronounced LeBeef (Matt Damon) a Texas Ranger already on the trail of Chaney for previous crimes. Both Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon in that zone where they are their characters. Jeff Bridges clearly making the role his.

From there the story unfolds. True to the mastery of the Coen Brothers, not a single frame is wasted. Each second of the film drives the story marvelously forward. Along the way, we encounter trademark Coen elements such as; Roger Deakins’ incredible cinematography, believable set design, strong performances all round, quirky characters and odd behaviors - all coming together in what will surely be most viewers top film of the year.

If I had to complain I would say that Jeff Bridges’ accent at one point is intelligible but too be honest it’s exactly what one would expect from a man that has soaked himself in whiskey for longer than is necessary.

The Coen’s True Grit is initially respectful to both the original as well as Charles Portis’ novel even much of the dialogue stays the same but it doesn’t feel in any way like the original, it feels like the Coen’s have a created a fresh and original western for our times. It’s dark, realistic, serious yet tender and has a healthy dose of satire that swings from knowing smiles to all out laughs.

Initially I was unsure which of the many outstanding elements that make up the weave of True Grit to single out but if I did not mention the outstanding performances from just about everyone on the cast particularly Hailee Steinfeld who has to carry most of the film - I would be remiss in this post. But I guess for me the most outstanding thing about True Grit is the chemistry between all the characters, they act as real people would act around each other in the given circumstances. Whether this comes down the script, rehearsal, acting skill, the dialogue, direction or all of the aforementioned bits I can’t say but it is beautiful to behold.

I’m guessing I experienced The Coen Brother’s True Grit, much in the same way that many film goers in 1969 experienced the original True Grit of which they hold in such high esteem as well as won John Wayne his Oscar.

True Grit Review (Spoiler Free)
Directors: Ethan Coen & Joel Coen
Writers: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen & Charles Portis
Stars: Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper

True Grit will be in UK Cinemas on 11 February, 2011