Monday, May 6, 2013

One Of The More Jarring, But Enjoyable, Films Blending Humor And Violence: True Grit Delivers!

The Good: Great acting, Wonderful writing
The Bad: Very simple plot and characters
The Basics: The Coen remake of True Grit is funny, violent and all-around enjoyable as a fourteen year-old girl goes searching for frontier justice in the American West.

Right up front, it is worth noting that I have never seen the original True Grit, so this is intended as a very pure review of the 2010 version of True Grit as re-imagined and recreated by the Coen Brothers. I am, it should also be noted, not a fan of Westerns in general. The only real draw for me to True Grit was that I recently rewatched The Big Lebowski (reviewed here!) and absolutely loved it. I like the weirdness of most of the Coen Brothers’ movies, so I thought I would give True Grit a chance.

And it was well worth the time and attention I gave it.

As a Coen Brothers film, True Grit is loaded with quips and witty dialogue and a wonderful sense of cinematography and good acting to boot. Within moments, I found myself enjoying True Grit more than the similarly hyped Lincoln (reviewed here!) and the blend of humor and character kept me engaged the whole film.

Mattie Ross spends almost no time mourning the death of her father when he is killed by Tom Chaney. Instead, she decides that when the law opts not to pursue Chaney, who fled the small city, she will hire a bounty hunter to track down Chaney and bring him to justice. She wants to employ the most ruthless U.S. Marshall she can find and that is Rooster Cogburn. Mattie watches Cogburn take the stand in another case where he killed two of the three suspects and she tries to hire him then. The quick-tongued Mattie wakes up the Texas Ranger, LaBoeuf, at the foot of her bed and learns that he has been hunting Chaney (under a number of aliases) across the South and West. LaBoeuf brings his knowledge of Chaney and Cogburn brings his ruthless determination (once Maddie prods him into it and gets him sober enough) to the hunt.

When the two men head out without her, Mattie pursues, which annoys LaBoeuf. Mattie works to keep Cogburn focused on finding Chaney in the wilds, frequently threatening everyone with legal actions. When they part ways with LaBoeuf, they hunt for Chaney through the wilds, following vague leads (like recovering the gold piece that Mattie’s father was carrying) and dead bodies (and strange living people) in their pursuit of justice. The pair and LaBoeuf hunt for Ned Pepper to find Chaney and bring their judgment upon him.

True Grit is all fun and amusement until it takes the predictably Coen-esque turn for the abruptly violent and shocking. True Grit is unfortunately gruesome when it is not being chuckle-out-loud funny. But the humor is quickly mixed with scenes where characters have bitten through their tongues and have other body parts chopped off. The most cerebral form of humor in the film comes from Mattie. Mattie is the smartest person in the film – explaining Latin legal terms to Rooster and outmaneuvering Stonehill to get the money to bankroll her quest for vengeance – and her naïveté plays off Cogburn’s drunken worldliness with great comedic effect. Indeed, her trying to get Cogburn to live up to his promise to bury one of the scoundrels is met with his observation that the man shouldn’t have died in such a cold climate where the ground was frozen over works because of Mattie’s wide-eyed optimism before and after.

When the Marshall and Ranger beg off, the mission changes as Mattie is captured by Pepper and Chaney. Even so, True Grit keeps a fast enough pace to be consistently engaging and funnier more than it is horrifying. The characters, who could come across as simply goofy are presented as quirky instead and that works for a story that is rooted in a dark quest for revenge.

Jeff Bridges deserves a lot of kudos for his role as Rooster Cogburn. He is hilarious as he slurs through the role, creating a character who is almost as funny as The Dude in the exact opposite way as his iconic Coen Brothers character. Jeff Bridges plays Cogburn as a drunkard and with a lack of focus that fades to a strong moral core that keeps him determined and willing to sacrifice everything for Mattie. Matt Damon is like no other role he has played as LaBoeuf and he manages to get through the entire film without his trademark smirk, illustrating that he can act.

True Grit is held together by Hailee Steinfeld. Steinfeld is the fourteen year-old Mattie and she is articulate enough to make the character completely viable. She has a presence on film on that is uncommon in young people. In fact, not since Dakota Fanning in i am sam (reviewed here!) has a girl so driven a film and stolen the spotlight. It is virtually impossible not to watch True Grit and predict that she will have (barring a Lohan-like collapse) a long and fruitful career.

True Grit becomes a little muddied in that Cogburn becomes obsessed with finding Ned, as opposed to keeping on Mattie’s focused quest for Chaney alone, but it might be the best film yet that blends humor and violence into an overall satisfying film.

For other films with Barry Pepper, please be sure to check out my reviews of:
Seven Pounds
25th Hour
Battlefield Earth


For other movie reviews, please check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the reviews I have written!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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