True Grit – Christmas, 2010
Rave Motion Pictures
I love Coen brothers movies. Everything they do is entertaining. So, when I see one of their movies and don’t instantly recognize it as terrific, I tend to be disappointed. That’s not to say that their True Grit remake wasn’t good. It was. It’s just that it wasn’t the funniest movie I’ve ever seen, as was The Big Lebowski, wasn’t Fargo perfect, and didn’t leave me fearing an indifferent Universe, Like The Man Who Wasn’t There did.
While I did enjoy True Grit, that feeling of, “I’m all in. I need to find out what happens to the hero,” that typically accompanies a Coen brothers movie was absent. I just wasn’t fully invested in the story. While the circumstances of the characters may have been somewhat uncompelling, the characters themselves were great. Jeff Bridges as tough, drunk U.S. Marshal and remorseless killer, Rooster Cogburn, is fun to root for. Matt Damon unsurprisingly plays likably arrogant well as Texas Ranger LaBoeuf, and the two butt heads throughout their time together as legal authorities with opposing outlooks on the law likely would. Relative unknown Hailee Steinfeld does well to be noticeable on screen alongside movie stars as Mattie Ross, a teenage girl who elicits the help of Rooster to capture her father’s murderer, Tom Chaney. True grit is carried by the performances of these three and the combative, comedic interactions between them. Those looking for a dark, suspenseful take on a timid classic will be surprised to find that True Grit is more of a comedy than anything else.
Smallish yet quality roles by Josh Brolin (Milk, The Goonies), playing Chaney and Barry Pepper (Saving Private Ryan, 61*) as Lucky Ned Pepper, the leader of a group of outlaws with which Chaney has found refuge, give the story energy. Ned Pepper’s rough appearance and demeanor has no doubt convinced Dayton audiences that he’d have no problem fitting in at a local establishment of the same name. Seeing these famous faces get relatively little screen time served as a reminder of the pull of the Coen brothers. I watched the 1969 original for the first time after I saw the remake, and was pleased to see that the original was similarly cast, with Robert Duvall and Dennis Hopper making big impacts despite brief appearances.
Surely, had this movie been made by unknown filmmakers and had I left my unfairly high expectations of the Coen brothers at the door, I’d be speaking about True Grit in more glowing terms. As it stands, I can say that True Grit at least kept my attention and that I’ll carry the same unfairly high expectations with me into the next Coen brothers movie I see.