365 Movies By Day Reviews of Movies I Watch that I Feel Like Writing About

7Apr/110

True Grit (2010)

I am the first to admit that I am not as big a fan of Joel and Ethan Coen directed movies as most people are. While I did really enjoy Fargo (1996) and A Single Man (2009), I immensely disliked Miller's Crossing (1990) and Barton Fink (1991). While I thought No Country for Old Men was pretty good, I did not think it was close to being the best movie of 2007. Then there are the other Coen directed movies which I don't have any interest in seeing. These include Burn After Reading (2008), The Ladykillers (2007), Intolerable Cruelty (2003), or O Brother, Where Art Though? (2000). I appreciate a good western and once True Grit was nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award, it became a no-brainer that I see the movie, despite my reservations about the Coens.

True Grit is a remake of the 1969 movie with the same name. John Wayne starred as the lead and won his only Best Actor Academy Award Nomination for his role as US Marshall Rooster Cogburn. The remake stars Jeff Bridges (fresh off a 2009 Best Actor Academy Award Win for Crazy Heart) as Cogburn. In an eerie coincidence, Bridges is nominated in 2010 for a Best Actor Academy Award for again playing a drunkard. However, unlike his role as Bad Blake in 2009, Bridges' Cogburn doesn't allow his drinking to affect his job. Cogburn takes a no-nonsense approach as a US Marshall. He slurs his speech, he smokes like a fiend, and drinks whiskey straight from the bottle. He has a patch over his right eye, though it is never explained why. He seems to care very little about anything other than drinking and smoking and seems to do his job just so he can support these two habits. He is straight to the point with his answers, sometimes to the point of being mean.

The story revolves around Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld in her debut performance), as 14-year old girl looking to avenge the murder of her father by a drifter named Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin - No Country for Old Men, W.). The series of events leading to his murder is made known in the film's opening sequence. Mattie is informed that Cogburn is the man who can best capture Chaney. It becomes her mission to not only hire Cogburn, but to go with him on his mission to bring Chaney to justice. Chaney is already being hunted by a Texas Ranger named LaBoeuf (Matt Damon - Good Will Hunting, The Bourne Identity), a man who lacks Cogburn's expertise, but who is just as focused and not affected by booze and tobacco. The three team up for an adventure through the backwoods of late 19th century Arkansas in pursuit of Chaney.

While I didn't really like Damon as LaBoeuf, I thought the rest of the cast had strong performances. Bridges and Steinfeld worked perfectly together and while the screen time of Brolin and his gang's leader Lucky Ned Pepper (Barry Pepper - The Green Mile, *61) were very, very limited, both actors were highly effective in their roles. Brolin's Chaney is both a killer and a coward at the same time. Pepper's Pepper is grimy and ornery, a perfect choice for the roll.

While Steinfeld was clearly the lead actor in the movie, she did not get nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award nomination, but rather a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award nomination. Steinfeld will be rewarded by not having to go head to head against Natalie Portman (Black Swan) and will win the Best Supporting Actress role. An ineffective Maddie Ross would have resulted in an ineffective movie, regardless of how strong the other actors were. And while my initial thought was that True Grit was good, but not great enough to be regarded as one of the ten best movies of 2010, I have since re-evaluated feelings about the movie. I do think it is deserving for an a Best Picture Academy Award, but I still like it less six of the other eight nominated movies that I have seen. I thought it was better than Winter's Bone and The Kids Are All Right. Regardless of my feelings, however, there is no chance this movie tops The Social Network or The King's Speech for Best Picture. Likewise, while Bridges was fantastic, he was not as good as Colin Firth (The King's Speech) or Jessie Eisenberg (The Social Network). And I cannot see the Coen brothers (Best Director Academy Award winners in 2007 for No Country for Old Men) beating out David Fincher (The Social Network) or Tom Hooper (The King's Speech) winning for Best Director.

Plot 10/10 (easy to understand, but what truer story is a story of avenging the murder of a family member)
Character Development 8/10 (watching Bridges' character change from a heartless drunkard to a father type figure is memorizing)
Character Chemistry 8.5/10 (there are scenes where you could cut the tension between Bridges and Damon with a knife)
Acting 8/10 (Bridges is brilliant. Steinfeld not only holds her own, but matches Bridges and one ups a miscast Damon)
Screenplay 8/10 (Some great one-liners by Bridges. It's impossible not to like him or to root for him, despite how much of a jerk he can seemingly be)
Directing 8.5/10 (The Coens have proven two years in a row now {A Single Man, 2009} that they don't need to make a movie more complex than it needs to be simply because they can
Cinematography 8.5/10 (brilliant shots of 1880 Arkansas)
Sound 8.5/10 (some nice country music and effective periods of silence. Even the sound of gunshots seem more realistic than most movies)
Hook and Reel 7.5/10 (knowing that the girl is about to hire Bridges to track the man who killed her father is enough to capture most)
Universal Relevance 8/10 (as much as any western can be I presume)
83.5%

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