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Coens Play it Straight in True Grit

Jeff Bridges delivers in the Coens' True Grit Jeff Bridges delivers in the Coens' True Grit

Joel and Ethan Coen have raised the bar sufficiently high, that whenever I step into the theatre to see their latest work, I expect to have my socks knocked off. I don’t know if that’s fair, but given that these are the filmmakers who delivered No Country For Old Men, The Big Lebowski, and Fargo, I’d say it’s understandable. So it was with some mixed feelings that I watched the credits roll at the end of True Grit, the latest movie from the Coens, starring Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, and Josh Brolin.

True Grit is a great movie, don’t get me wrong, but there’s little to mark it as a Coen Brothers film. Maybe that’s not important. I'm sure if I had seen the movie without knowing the minds behind the lens, I would have been simply enthralled with the wonderful Western unfolding on screen.

The story follows 14-year-old Mattie Ross (newcomer Hailee Steinfeld) on her quest to avenge her father’s death at the hands of a hired worker named Tom Chaney (No Country For Old Men’s Josh Brolin). Ross seeks out the meanest U.S. Marshall in town, Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), who reluctantly agrees to track down her father’s killer. Along the way, the two are joined by a pretentious but well-intentioned Texas Ranger named LaBoeuf (Matt Damon).

It’s a compelling journey for the three characters, all of whom must come to terms with their true selves, shortcomings and all, along the way. In many ways, the film smacks of classics. It's flawless in its execution, storytelling, and aesthetic. I expect nothing less from the Coens. So what was my problem? Why wasn’t I quite satisfied?

As good as True Grit is, it possesses little to mark it as a Coen Brothers film. There are only the barest traces of their signature quirk in evidence. We get a taste of it in an early hanging scene, in a brief encounter with a traveling dentist in a bearskin, in the dialogue of some minor characters, and in precious few snippets from Damon’s Texas Ranger. Other than that, the bulk of what turns up on-screen marks this as a straight up genre film, and the only one of the Coens’ career I can think of.

True Grit is a portrait of vengeance in the classic Western tradition, but told through the voice of a 14-year-old girl. The Coens do a masterful job of bringing the tale to life, and outstanding performances from Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld add much to the success of the film. But most of all for me, True Grit is an exercise in defying expectations. It's not a signature Coen Brothers’ film, but the deft pace, sense of character, and attention to detail, especially in the dialogue, are definitely among the things I’ve come to expect from the filmmaker brothers. In the end, even with little quirk, True Grit is an exceptional movie. I should be satisfied with that.

The Coens prove their mastery and range with True Grit, starring Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon.

 

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Last modified on Wednesday, 17 October 2012 18:21

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