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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

REVIEW - True Grit (2010) - ****

“It's a hell of a thing, killing a man,” said Eastwood’s Bill Munny in Unforgiven .“..Take away all he's got and all he's ever gonna have.” Too often in films a gunshot is a passive exercise. Rarely do characters reflect on taking a life. Rooster Cogburn knows what it’s like, you get the feeling he doesn’t like it much. You also get the feeling that he would take you down fast and hard if you cross him which makes just as dangerous as any criminal. True Grit is a masterpiece and a remarkable achievement for the Coen brothers who continue to produce some of the most brilliant films I have ever seen.

The setup is simple. Jeff Bridges plays U.S. Marshal Cogburn who is hired by smart and surly 14 year old Mattie Ross played by Hailee Steinfeld to track down her father’s killer. It is the way the Coen Brothers build the momentum of the plot that keeps what really is a basic western storyline utterly fascinating. They do this not with large sweeping action scenes (which isn’t their style) but using punchy and smart dialogue that is just as effective as a fistfight. Sure, there are a few gunfights and they are done really well (not as well as the hotel shoot-out in No Country For Old Men) but the dialogue is some of their best work. Watching newcomer Steinfeld negotiate the sale (and return) of her Father’s ponies in the beginning of the film is one of the most fascinating scenes I have seen in some time. For almost 5 minutes there are essentially two shots as two sides negotiate. Little Mattie Ross has the upper hand from the get go yet you are wrapped up in the strength and wit of this little girl.

All of the performances are what you would expect. Jeff Bridges is nearly unrecognizable yet we feel we know him very well. As I mentioned, Bridges brings a danger to the film and to the character. It’s a refined danger though, we would feel comfortable if we were around a campfire with Cogburn but fucked if he were pointing a gun at us. This is the film he should have won an Oscar for. Matt Damon brings a controlled nervousness to his character (a bounty hunter) who never seems to stop talking about his latest triumph. Josh Brolin is the target of Cogburn and does a great job as does Berry Pepper (WHO!?!), in fact his performance is so good you wonder where the hell he has been. The show belongs though to Hailee Steinfeld who delivers honestly one of the best performances of the year and certainly the best performance by a child since Henry Thomas in E.T.

Coen brothers, along with a select few, have been an enormous force in my love of film. They have made so many masterpieces that I continue to watch year after year. Blood Simple, Fargo, Raising Arizona, Big Lebowski, Miller’s Crossing, and more. Any Director would be happy to have one of those films but the Coen’s own them all. Outside of Miller’s Crossing I think this is the first time they have taken on a particular genre and they put that down with the strength of a six shooter. This film is a modern day masterpiece. I had the feeling when I was watching it that I would one day be watching this with my sons, although I will be watching it annually until they are ready.