Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Opens Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010 (Rated PG-13)
Run Time: 1 hour, 50 minutes
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Hailee Steinfeld, Josh Brolin
Directed by Joel & Ethan Coen (A Serious Man, The Big Lebowski, Fargo, No Country For Old Men)
I've previously gone on record with my dislike for the Coen Brothers' movies. They definitely have a "Coen-esque" style all their own, and an audience of film-goers that will love their stuff just because it's made by Coen Bros. Their latest film is "True Grit", a remake of the classic western of the same name starring John Wayne. Wayne's hammy performance as crotchety US Marshal Rooster Cogburn earned him his only Oscar win, which many believe he was given more as a lifetime achievement award. There is nothing particularly wrong with the Coen Bros' newest film, but there isn't anything particularly new either. And that's the problem: Why remake a classic film? This film marks a saddening trend in Hollywood and goes against the old adage "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."
The Plot. The story of True Grit centers on 14-year old Mattie Ross (Steinfeld), who's father has been killed by the coward Tom Chaney. She wants to bring him to justice, but local authority doesn't seem concerned in finding him. So she enlists the help of the trigger-happy and often drunk US Marshal, Rooster Cogburn (Bridges) to track him down. She travels with him, despite his objections, and they team up with a Texas Ranger named LeBoeuf (Damon), who has been tracking Chaney for a separate murder. He intends to catch Chaney and have him hanged in Texas, but that's not enough for Mattie...she wants him to hang for her father's murder. So although LeBoeuf is on their side in the pursuit, it is important that Mattie and Rooster find Chaney first.
True Grit. On a positive tip, this movie is beautifully shot and has a very authentic Western look. There are fine performances by all, most notably the breakout performance of young Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie. In the original film, the "true grit" was in reference to Rooster Cogburn, but in this film the grit is definitely possessed by Mattie...she may be the toughest 14-year old you've ever seen. Bridges is cool as ever, and although he gives a good performance as the gruff old Rooster, I am frustrated to see his name being mentioned for major award consideration (he was just nominated for a Golden Globe for this role). Now I love Jeff Bridges as much as anyone, but any awards received by him for this role I feel would be undeserved. Wayne's Rooster Cogburn was a screen icon, and one of the coolest characters ever. But awards should be given for performance, not for the likeability of a character. I also love Matt Damon, but felt he was miscast in the role as LeBoeuf.
False Grit. The biggest problem with True Grit is that it already exists as a film called True Grit, circa 1969. I am not a fan of remaking films "to bring them to a new audience." Maybe I'm getting old, but I find newer generations more than capable of finding old movies. Instead of remaking classic movies, why not rerelease them? Or come out with digital versions to upload to your IPad? For anybody with the attitude of "ewwww, I don't like old movies" probably has never seen one and should be forced into watching one. I'm even open to a "reimagining." But this new True Grit is nearly a straight remake of the original, down to much of the same dialogue. So it's being filmed using modern technology...so what? Even though I mentioned this film was beautifully shot, I prefer the patient, sweeping cinematography of the original True Grit any day.
Grit Happens. So again, there's nothing terribly wrong with the new True Grit. But my advice would be, if the story appeals to you or you are in the mood for a Western, go watch the original. Or watch the original and then go see the new film and do your own comparisons. This is an instance where I believe you will agree that there's nothing terribly wrong with either film, except one of the two is completely unnecessary.
For the Coen Bros fans, this is definitely a departure from their other work, most closely matching the look and feel of the modern Western, No Country For Old Men. But don't get too excited when you hear what you may think is "Coen-esque" dialogue...again, you will realize that the new film reuses much of the original film's dialogue. If you saw this movie without knowing that the Coen's were attached, you'd probably not have much to say.
So you heard it here first: When True Grit, The Coen Bros, and Jeff Bridges are nominated for Academy Awards early next year, think to yourself, "did they really achieve anything new or groundbreaking? Or is this recognition a nostalgic nod to their body of work...much like John Wayne's Oscar was?"
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