Tuesday, March 29, 2011

True Grit (Joel and Ethan Coen)

'The Duke Abides.'

I really cannot say that this is a considerably dark rendition of the novel of the same name in comparison with John Wayne's version. Aside from the occasional violence fully prevalent in almost all of the Coen brothers' films, this "True Grit" is still particularly colorful in its characterizations, and with Jeff 'The Dude' Bridges playing the same role that has given John 'The Duke' Wayne's sole Oscar statuette, one can't go on to see this film without even expecting a slight hint of 'fun'.

I do think that Mr. Bridges is simply put, the best actor that has able to portray the guiltless stagnation of a modern-day slacker via his role in "The Big Lebowski". And here in "True Grit", which marks his reunion with the Coen brothers since that classic cult film, he portrays Rooster Cogburn with almost the same unfathomable sweat, liquor and scratchy beard; a perfect companion description to his 'mean' reputation as a reckless marshal, yet a physical contradiction to his skills in gun fighting.

Hailee Steinfeld is very animated and lively as Mattie Ross that I think her performance equals that of Kim Darby in the 1969 film and her chemistry with Mr. Bridges almost on par with the latter's wonderful connection with John Wayne's Rooster.

Now on a slightly negative note, Matt Damon's build-up as LaBoeuf isn't particularly convincing; one sequence he is an enigmatic Texas ranger lighting a cigarette and silently looming over the sleeping Mattie Ross. On the next, he's suddenly saddling a horse, already with Rooster and on the course for Mattie's father's killer's hunt (this is where the 1969 adaptation is better). Matt Damon did very fine on the role, but his character's introduction was quite hazy at best that in some ways, it has put down the essence of the film's idea of an adventure inhabited by a richly detailed 'trio'.

"True Grit" is a gritty (not a pun, mind you) re-imagining of the, realistically speaking, quite obsolete novel, putting the action not on vibrant landscapes seemingly taken from an illusory yet perfect western world, but through a rocky, icy, and pale environment that puts the 'dread' in the violence and the concept of revenge seemingly at ease.

This is an immense improvement over the 1969 adaptation with an equally compelling though at times inconsistent chemistry, a collective effort from very talented actors to boot, and a screenplay that has given way to a more powerful and emotionally penetrating final sequence that the John Wayne version has completely neglected for the sake of a happier resolution.

In the end, aside from being a film deservedly belonging to the great western handfuls made today and a film that reunites the duo of cinematic geniuses that is the Coen brothers with arguably their most charismatic lead in the form of Jeff 'The Dude' (let's repeat that 'moniker', shall we?) Bridges, "True Grit" also stands as a benchmark for the brothers' cinematic emotional capacity and a proof that even these filmmakers commonly associated with the idiosyncratic and cynical nature of man also have a sentimental side. A 'side' deeply devoted to the contemplation of a violent adventure's aftermath rather than the constructed wit and complexity of a narrative leading into it.

Being different and deviant is normal for these cinematic non-conformists (the Coens), but as "True Grit" displays its utmost straightforwardness in terms of plot and characters, ironically, by their body of works' standards, it's their most 'unusual' film to date.


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