True Grit (USA, 2010, Coen Brothers)
If nothing else, the multiple Oscars the Coens received for No Country For Old Men were official recognition that they have a definite style. While they have explored a wide variety of stories in all sorts of settings, their style has most obviously developed in narratives that make extensive use of the great outdoors, in particular, on topography that harkens back to their personal origins in the American mid-West. It is in wide open spaces - not necessarily flatlands but any terrain with a big horizon line - that the Coen's ironic pessimissim best plays out aginst the cruel existential elements. And their cinematographic sensibilty - Terrance Malik lite because light-hearted about the inevitably dying light - appears to be most at home on the bald prairie or places similar.
The awards heaped on No Country by the Academy also confirmed the long-standing but erroneous prejudice in dramatic criticism that tragedy is more profound than comedy. Not that that film didn't display the Coen's characteristic black sense of humour. But the dominant tone was bleak failure; hey, the title plainly indicates that heros have become an impossibility. So it was hailed as a post-modern Peckinpah masterpiece. Meanwhile, since their second film, the down-right farcical Raising Arizona, the Coens have demonstrated that their take on the mythical content of "The West" is so sarcastic, they can just as effectively pursue it with characters who are unproblematically sympathetic and stories that have unequivocally happy endings
Now with True Grit, they've done it again. I must say I was thoroughly entertained by this movie. Impressed I was by all of the usual Coen talents, but also for the film being the least cynical work they've ever given us. It must stand as the most fun-for-the-whole-family film the Coens have ever made. Sure, there's one scene where the youngsters in the audience would have to see one man's fingers get chopped off and another man's face get shot open. But the PG13 rating is entirely appropriate. True Grit is basically warm-hearted and upbeat. The big stars in the picture are having great fun delivering the sometimes thrillingly articulate dialogue in the vernacular of the period. The adventure unfolds with superb pacing. And of course, thematically the whole affair is about overcoming personal differences to forge authentic bonds of mutual admiration and ultimately affection. True Grit is as close to Disney as the Coens get. And go figure, this time out, I mean that as a compliment.
Perhaps the easiet way to signify how they've given their twist to the 1969 film - for which John Wayne's portrayal of Rooster Cogburn finally won him an Oscar - is to notice (thank you Wiki) that in the 2010 film the Coens put the character's eye patch on the opposite eye. Who knows, perhaps Jeff Bridges - whose work the year before in Crazy Heart finally won him an Oscar - personally reversed the patch for whatever symbolic or practical reasons. Or maybe on this issue, it's simply that the new film is being true to the 1968 novel. This particular issue aside, Wiki informs me in general that the Coens' version is indeed more faithful to the book in that the original monograph is consistently told from the adolescent female character's point of view.
Hence, True Grit offers up an outstanding role model for young women; not just exceptionally intelligent, also exceptionally tough. True git - exactly! I believe this film would make an excellent double bill with last year's absolutely outstanding Winter's Bone in a film studies course for teenagers that intended to provide a lesson in feminist orientation. And just as Jennifer Lawrence in the latter is remarkably good, Hailee Steinfeld in the former is just wonderful. She fires off her fightin' mad, book learnin', step o'side, bluffers-pay-double, kick-ass speechs to perfection. Bridges, Damon, Brolin, everybody's having a hoot and making it happen. But it's a deal-breaker for the film if the girl can't hold her own. Steinfeld holds her own and then some.
Well pardner, you can check out that there trailer out rightchere: