Friday, 25 February 2011

Review: True Grit

When I watch a Coen Brothers film for the first time, I can't help but have an expectation that I'm about to see something really special, especially as they've set the bar high with recent films such as No Country For Old Men, I was expecting something special. Of course, my expectations aren't merely based on recent Coen outings - I tend to judge them on their entire careers stemming back to the likes of Fargo, The Big Lebowski and Miller's Crossing to mention but a few.

I always get excited as soon as a new Coen Brothers trailer is released, and their sneak peek of True Grit was all I hoped for. Atmosphere, tension, Jeff Bridges complete with bad ass eye patch, meant I had to wipe the drool from my chin and find ways to busy myself until its February release.

I'm happy to admit I am, in no way whatsoever, disappointed with their latest efforts, even though it sways from their unique and original stories. Based on the Charles Portis novel of the same name, as well as inevitable comparisons to the 1969 version which saw John Wayne claim his first and only Oscar for his portrayal of Rooster Cogburn, the Coen Brothers have a different vision of the story which bares little relation to the original film. It is only fitting that such an iconic role would be tackled by the legendary Jeff Bridges. A spot on decision as Bridges creates his own persona with his own characteristics and mannerisms seeping through, which contribute to both the serious nature of the ruthless Cogburn, as well as the dark, quirky humorous side the Coen's are synonymous with.

The story is driven by 13-year-old Mattie (Hailee Steinfeld) who, after her Father is murdered by ruthless outlaw Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), hires Marshal Cogburn to hunt the killer down so she can personally get bloody retribution. With some persuasion Cogburn agrees, but the pair have several run-ins with Texas Ranger, LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), who is also on the trail of Chaney. The story centres around the pursuit of Chaney, as their journey presents them with various hostilities that allows the rich characters to shine, which is trademark work from the Coen's.

The feel of the film right from the beginning is one of absolute authenticity. It is enough that you are able to completely immerse yourself into the world of the American West. The visual prowess of the film is one of its strongest aspects. Cinematographer Roger Deakins does a fine job as he captures the beauty of the landscapes and danger of the Great American Plains, and genuinely impresses with the realistic look of absolutely everything in every single shot. In fact, the authentic nature, and the way in which the Western genre is tackled here, is something that feels even better on reflection. True Grit is the perfect creation of a Western and is something you will be left wanting more of after you leave the theatre. It really charms without even being self aware.

As I mentioned, Jeff Bridges is great. A man associated with mesmerising performances (as noted by his Oscar win last year for Crazy Heart) is guaranteed to give a class performance. His interpretation of Cogburn, without feeling the need to base it on Wayne, displays the quality of acting I have come to expect from him. Bridges does a compelling job as he creates a very hostile, real character blended with a sense of humanity as he, albeit slowly, warms to Mattie during various points of peril. However, it is newcomer, Steinfeld, that delivers probably the strongest performance of all. She continually dominates her screen time with such a likeable and assertive performance, it wouldn't be unthinkable for her to nab the Best Supporting Female Oscar. She really is that good.

The dialogue within the setting is an intriguing aspect. Would the Coen's use the contemporary, witty dialogue they are so accustomed to, or would they stay true to the time period and retain absolute authenticity? The screenplay includes dialogue straight from the Portis novel and has an old fashioned, real-to-the-time colloquialism that contains subtle Coenisms that enrich the experience, and add conviction to its intended realism, whilst still remaining a Coen movie.

Seeing the brothers succeed outside of their comfort zone was refreshing and somewhat of a relief. It shows that they can tackle any genre whilst weaving their own sense of style into whatever they produce. True Grit is a thoroughly solid Western that oozes authenticity, to such a high degree, that you might actually believe they went back a century to film it. Rich dialogue and the uniqueness so often associated with the Coen's is present in abundance, but True Grit is definitely one of the more subtle films in the pairs filmography.

True Grit is laced with Coen magic, yet holds its roots firmly in the original novel. Regardless of the 'remake' stigma, the film is simplistic in its narrative approach. The stylised setting, acting and story telling ability by the Coens makes True Grit an absolute pleasure to watch.

Sources : Internet Movie Database
Images : Google Images