Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Moive Review: "True Grit"

True Grit crackles and pops across the sweeping vistas of the Wild West, a time where the frontier actually existed, where young girls could pursue their father's killer in the name of revenge, and a time where a U.S. Marshall could be judge, jury, and executioner without any real appeal. The Coen Brothers have crafted a Western adventure that is everything a great Western should be, and something that many Westerns have lacked. They take us back to a simpler time, where men roamed the wilderness, where it was either good or bad, scoundrel or coward, and it is this simplicity that makes True Grit the superb cinematic achievement that it is.

Fourteen-year-old Mattie Ross's father was murdered by the coward Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin). Mattie (newcomer Hailee Steinfeld) recruits U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to hunt Chaney down and bring him to justice, but here's the catch, Mattie must accompany Cogburn across the wilderness to exact her revenge upon Chaney. Along the way there are electrifying gunfights, beautiful landscapes, and a self-promoting Texas Ranger, LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), who often teams up with Mattie and Rooster. The hunt is on.

Writer/directors Joel and Ethan Coen make a sentimental film to a time long lost, without feeling at all sentimental, but being a work in memory of the time. Throughout the entire film, the Coens keep it pure and simple, and simplicity is the thing that makes this movie excel. There are no complex narrative structures or crazy frills and whistles, the movie does not innovate in these areas, but just does so well with what already exists. The cinematography from Roger Deakins is simply marvelous. Never is there an unecessary camera movement or handheld camera work to add some grit, but rather the cinematograpy is always precise and captures the essence of simplicity. Helping aid the simplicity, the score from Carter Burwell, adapted from four old 1800s hymns, is never obtrusive, always played purely, effectively, and reminiscent of what an 1800s church service might have felt like with just a couple twenty people and an organ to sing to.

The Coen Brothers' script sizzles with their trademark comedic flare, and it is through the humor that comes simply from the characters being themselves that creates a camaraderie between Mattie, Cogburn, and LaBeouf. Everyone is not as they seem in this movie. Mattie, contrary to her appearance, is a tough girl who will trek the wilderness to hunt down a killer, but she is also a compassionate person who sees things in others that no one else sees. Mattie sees beyond Cogburn's gruff exterior, and becomes his spunky sidekick, knowing that he is a man of heart who will carry her across the plains to save her life. Not only that, Mattie comes to believe in LaBeouf more than he does in himself, that he is a greater Ranger than both he and Cogburn give him credit for. But what makes their camaradarie work are the performances of the actors. Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon deliver as one would expect, but the scene stealer is always thirteen-year-old Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie. Steinfeld is a firecracker whose emotions are pure, innocent, and straight-to-the-point. Nothing in her performance ever seems overthought, but just natural, and the tears of her seeing a horse put down or her fear when she falls into a pit of rattlesnakes, is true to human nature.

Never have I been more enthralled by a Wild West adventure than I was by the Coens' True Grit. Their simplistic view of a simpler time takes one back as a viewer to those times of their simplistic childhood, where we idolized heroes, and despised the villains. We were Mattie, and for a few hours, the Coens allow us to remember what it was like to be her.

I give True Grit an A+!

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