True Grit

Tron seems to have kick-started a Jeff Bridges revival in my house this week. So, first on the list was True Grit, the Coen brothers remake of the 1969 John Wayne classic.

Not dissimilar to Crazy Heart, Jeff Bridges adopts an almost unintelligible accent to play US Marshall Reuben J ‘Rooster’ Cogburn. The audience is introduced to this one-eyed renegade, during a trial where his testimony has an almost Dickensien disregard for the law – pointing out the obvious failings of the legal profession with off-hand, changeable comments.

His slouched, easy stance is kept in shadow by the bright window light behind him – the effect is to produce a distinctive sillouette of this ‘shady character’. To be expected, the humour in the script is typical Coen, and the quick banter between Rooster and the lawyer was reminiscent of the rhetoric between Clooney and the law in ‘Oh Brother Where Art Thou’.

Clearly, the way characters use language is something the Coen’s have added to their auteur specifications. And interestingly, it’s Hailee Steinfeld’s performance as Mattie Ross which leaves the strongest impression. In the original Charles Portis novel, 14 year-old Mattie dominates as the first-person narrator. In the film, Mattie’s vocabulary reflects that of the written word, she doesn’t abbreviate, she doesn’t use slang, or mish-mash a sentence. Every word uttered is as considered and precise as her appearance. The obvious contrast in dialogue between Mattie and Rooster, apart from being comic, is a metaphor for their moral stance in life. Retribution versus revenge.

Critically, this film was considered a risk for the Coen’s. John Wayne’s legend as the ultimate American (western) hero speaks strongly to the national identity – mess with it at your peril. Personally, I’m not a fan of Westerns, I can’t think of one (other than No Country for Old Men) which I’ve paid to go and see, so the very fact that the Coen’s can guarantee an audience in any genre must be a sign this film has wide appeal.

I enjoyed it. The cinematography is wild and epic – the final chase scene a refreshing variation on the traditional western shoot out – (horse chases across open plains seems to remind me of LOTR) which makes the more intimate moments more intense (Mattie down the snake pit felt very claustrophobic).

A film with this many ‘characters’ runs the risk of alienating an audience – it could become too difficult to find any of them believable – but luckily we don’t in True Grit. Matt Damon, delivers a hugely understated and excellent performance as the Texan Ranger LaBoeuf.

Over all 3.8 of out 5 (so pedantic I know)

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