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Quint says The Coen Bros' TRUE GRIT outperforms the original film in every respect!

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with my thoughts on the newest effort from The Coen Bros, a remake of True Grit starring Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin and young Hailee Steinfeld.

I’m pleased as punch to report that True Grit joins the ranks of such films as The Wizard of Oz, The Maltese Falcon and John Carpenter’s The Thing in the very small group of remakes that are superior to the originals. The John Wayne film is iconic in its own right, but not the best put together movie in the world. Especially when it comes to the role of Mattie Ross, the young girl who hires a grizzled old ranger to hunt down the man who killed her Pa. In the original this role proved to be the weakest link, which is a shame because it’s the linchpin role of this particular tale. Kim Darby’s not much of an actress, turning in her best role as the goofy mother in BETTER OFF DEAD, in my opinion… She tries in the original, don’t get me wrong, but never feels right. Especially when you see Hailee Steinfeld in the remake. She just obliterates Darby, but to be fair she obliterates all but best child actors, she’s that good. I’m talking awards season good. If 2010 was Chloe Moretz’s year, I think 2011 could be Hailee Steinfeld’s. Mark my words you’re going to see a race by some of the top dramatic filmmakers to cast her up. It’s rare that any actor, let alone a child actor, can hit that perfect note, that effortless but nuanced delivery especially in a character like Mattie Ross. Mattie could be a grating (as we saw with Ms. Darby’s performance) character. A young, stubborn, morally righteous 14 year old girl out for the capture of the man who killed her father who can spit out words like Tommy guns can bullets is a tough nut to crack, but Steinfeld does it. She’s not alone. Jeff Bridges won his Oscar for Crazy Heart last year, a solid movie, but one I never could get on board with. His Rooster Cogburn is much more layered than Wayne’s was, a bit more believable as a drunk and a badass. From his drawl to his posture to the way he uses silence, Bridges crafts a screen icon. I lost sight of Jeff Bridges early on. The same can’t be said of Mr. Wayne. Strangely, there’s not a huge difference between the original film and this one, but the original (which is playing in the background as I write this) feels like a rough draft compared to the Coens’ movie. The most notable difference is in tone. The original is a little more cartoony and light whereas the Coens version carries a bit more weight. Not just in the performances, but in the overall mood, thanks greatly to some career best work from cinematographer Roger Deakins. I’ve seen some beautiful movies this year, including The Black Swan, but nothing has awed me like Deakins’ work in True Grit. From the very first frame of golden light spilling from an open doorway out into a dark, snowy night illuminating the body of Mattie’s daddy, every shot and every angle is a work of art. If Deakins doesn’t win the Oscar (I’m taking it as a given he’ll be nominated) I will riot in the streets. Well, not really. I’ll more likely mutter “Bullshit” at my TV, but it amounts to the same general feeling. There’s just an ease to this film that is almost hypnotic. The world feels real, the people feel real and the story is engaging, always moving. I have a feeling True Grit will be one of my most rewatched movies of 2010. I know I wanted to watch it again as the credits were rolling and as I sit here thinking back on it (while stealing glimpses at the weaker version of the story) I wish I could put the flick on. I mentioned the realness of the world above and I thought I’d clarify that a little bit because I don’t want to give the wrong impression. Nothing is forced in this film. There’s no awkward bit of exposition or one-liner that feels like someone at a computer trying to be smart. Some theatricality does exist in this film, there are big performances and sweeping vistas bending light through a lens that is bigger and grander than what most will likely ever see, but to me that’s the real art of cinema: finding that sweet spot between reality and fantasy. That sweet spot is hit big time in this movie.

The movie features no great twist, no deep meaning… it’s a straight forward adventure tale following three incredibly gifted actors portraying three incredibly likable characters. I’ve already praised Bridges and Steinfeld, but I also have to give some love to Matt Damon. From the trailer I wasn’t sure I would like his portrayal of the Texas Ranger La Boeuf, which seemed to be an exaggeration. You know what I’m talking about “I thought you were going to say the sun was in your eyes… that is to say… yer eeeeyyyyeeee.” But I’m happy to say that within the context of the movie, bouncing off of Bridges’ big, but not over-the-top grumpy badass and Steinfeld’s adultly determined personas it’s the perfect fit. And there’s a reason for the way he delivers that line in the trailer, but I won’t spoil it here. Much like Ms. Steinfeld, Damon acts circles around Glen Campbell in the original and really elevates the character. It’s easy to show us that La Boeuf is a bit of a cocky prick, but in order to show his full arc and make the audience buy the journey you have to see him broken down a bit, too. He’s the third wheel in this group and he’s constantly made aware of that fact. Over time that breaks him down a bit and that’s when the threesome really gels. The Coens are firing on all cylinders at the moment. This is perhaps their most mainstream film, but still they find a way to inject their unique sense of humor and quirky characters (my favorite being the crazy mountain man doctor). They made a Western that takes itself seriously without becoming indulgent, a beautiful film that doesn’t wallow in its own gorgeousness and a character piece that hits every note just right as the story unfolds. In short, they’ve made one of my favorite movies of the year and one I can’t wait to watch again upon release, especially if I can see it with a raucous crowd. There are many cheer moments as well as few scream moments, but mostly I just want to be around others as they take this flick in for the first time. And watch it again. That, too. -Quint Follow Me On Twitter

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