Review: True Grit (2010)
"I can do nothin' for ya, son"
Rooster Cogburn tells it like it is, no sugarcoating, not beating around the bush, just straight truth. He's an alcoholic, a murderer, though he claims he's never killed a man who didn't have it coming, a mean, unforgiving sonofabitch, a US Marshall and the hero of this story.
Jeff Bridges plays Rooster with the kind of naturalistic perfection that won him the Oscar for last year's Crazy Heart and made him a slacker superhero in the eyes of millions of adoring admirers when he played The Dude in The Big Lebowski. I never saw the 1969 version of True Grit with John Wayne in the Rooster role, but I read that Bridges didn't watch the movie prior to filming this because he wanted Rooster to be his own creation based on the impression the book by Charles Portis gives, rather than a John Wayne imitation. Good call. I never saw the original True Grit either but Bridges' slurring, rough and tumble version is the creation of a screen character that will go down in history as one of the all time greatest.
Which brings us to the second screen character that either will, or at least certainly deserves to go down with Bridges' Rooster as an all time great screen character and performance, that of Matt Damon's Texas Ranger LaBoeuf. LaBoeuf is officially my favourite Matt Damon performance in his career thus far. A comic relief of sorts, LaBoeuf joins forces with Rooster, kind of, to track down the killer of a man who's daughter has employed Rooster to capture and bring to justice. I loved Damon's interpretation of this character. The accent, the demeanour, the expressions. Awesome. He's been the funnest character for me to imitate since Daniel Day Lewis' Daniel Plainview in the brilliant masterpiece There Will Be Blood.
Hailee Steinfeld, in her first movie role, is fantastic as well and veteran character actor Barry Pepper gives the best performance of his career as an unsavoury villain with really bad teeth (and thank goodness for that! There's nothing worse than watching a western with characters who spend all their time in the wildernesses of the old west and somehow maintain the kind of pearly whites you only see on dentistry commercials). Josh Brolin, only getting better and better the more movies he does, plays the dastardly Mr. Chaney, and plays him to perfection.
But career defining performances are the kinds to be expected of the Coens' movies, so what about the story?
Well, it's slow. Which, in all honesty, is not what the excellent trailer would have you believe. One look at the exciting, heart rate increasing preview:
and you might say to yourself, 'wow, this is just going to be suspense and gunfighting from beginning to end, when the actual movie is really not very much like the trailer at all. The protagonists take their sweet time locating Chaney, the man they're after, and while when they do find him the movie really does pick up pace and get pretty exciting, that's about 20 minutes from the end of an almost two hour movie. That's not to say the movie's a bore. There's lots to love in the character interaction, the performances, especially the dialogue. As they did with Cormac McCarthy's amazing novel No Country For Old Men, the Coen brothers have pretty much taken Charles Portis' novel and filmed it page for page, with nearly every line of dialogue from the original novel intact. Portis' dialogue is intelligent, poetic and unique. I was reminded consistently of the dialogue in the HBO series Deadwood (but without the swearing) and a bigger compliment from me you could not receive.
You'll hear of comparisons to the Coens' Oscar gobbler No Country For Old Men from a few years ago. I don't see this. Maybe in tone, but I have to say, having seen everything the Coens have done thus far, this doesn't really feel like a Coen brothers movie. You can watch pretty much everything the Coens have done previously and say 'yeah, this has Coens written all over it' and while this movie isn't devoid of that, it doesn't have that Coen signature feel the others do.
And so while I can't say I wasn't disappointed by True Grit not being the masterpiece I had envisioned it to be, I can say it is an excellent movie, boasting at least two career defining performances and another that will go down as a keeper in the movie character history books. Plus the brilliant dialogue and the suspenseful and action packed last twenty minutes, you wouldn't be wasting your money to cough up $12 for the full big screen experience. Just don't go in expecting Fargo or Unforgiven like I did and you won't leave somewhat crestfallen, as I also did.