Monday, December 27, 2010

True Grit. A-

When I wrote enthusiastically about A Serious Man earlier in the year, I commented on how the increasingly prolific Coen brothers were growing stronger by the decade, but that this last decade would be a hard one to top. Well, regardless of how the next nine years turn out for them, they've started the decade pretty hot. The movie is True Grit, and it's less of a remake of the 1969 Western of the same name and more of a faithful adaptation of the original source, the novel by Charles Portis. This is a grand Western, both traditional and rife with trademark Coen brothers material. So when a tooth doctor roams through the forest wearing a bear mask, we're immediately reminded why we love these gifted filmmakers. If I were to compare the movie to anything the brothers have done, it would be O Brother, Where Art Thou, which ironically is the film that jump-started the previous decade. Both are road movies inspired by different sources (O Brother would be The Odyssey and Sulivan's Travels), and they both have a similar sense of humor. But for the most part True Grit is a radical shift for the brothers, who had surprisingly never made a Western before this (the closest thing would be No Country For Old Men, a neo-Western to some). One wouldn't guess it, as on their first try they make a movie that will probably be a new classic of the genre. The story never gets complicated, as a fourteen year old audacious young girl named Mattie Ross calls on a gruff and grizzled U.S. Marshall named Rooster Cogburn to track down her father's killer. Ross is played by newcomer Hailee Steinfeld and she pretty much anchors the movie. It's a tall order, but Steinfeld does a marvelous job playing such a lively character. The veterans she works with, Jeff Bridges as Cogburn and Matt Damon as a Texas Ranger, do equally solid work. If there's a problem with the movie, it's that the villain, played by Josh Brolin, never really has a scene to show anything besides menace. But I guess since he has such a small role anyway, the Coens decided to keep him as a prototype and keep the running time at a refreshing 110 minutes. It's strange that True Grit got such a big Christmas release. For what's said to be a dying genre, the Western was relied on heavily this past weekend. It did well, and it seems as if it is alive and well.

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