Hola all. Massawyrm here.
Years ago Harry thought it would be funny to write (in passing) a couple of times that I hate the Coen Brothers and their films. That’s just the kind of friend Harry is; if he knows you can take it, he will troll the living shit out of you. It didn’t help that the Coens went through a rough patch mid-decade and then recovered with a trio of films that played against my personal taste, seeming to back up Harry’s assertions. The truth is that I find them incredibly talented filmmakers who have a special knack for making every day, real world circumstances and dialog very funny - a trait that carries over very well into what I feel is their very best film to date, the singularly perfect film TRUE GRIT.
Were it directed by any other filmmaker, I can’t imagine this film having gotten this far without years of screed filled rants and blogs emblazoned with “How dare they?” The original is a classic and you don’t remake classics – unless you are someone like the Coens and have a legitimate gripe about the adaptation of the original source material. TRUE GRIT didn’t entirely adhere to the work it was originally drawn from, so in remaking this story, the Brothers Coen set out to adapt it as closely as possible. The result is a grim, funny, dark tale of revenge in the untamed territories as a young girl saddles up with a half-wit braggart and a bitter old codger with a hair trigger and a penchant for pulling it before he should.
Once again the Coens prove how well they can take mundane dialog and transform it into a ballet of words as hilarity ensues throughout. A simple negotiation over a business transaction becomes one of the film’s comedic centerpieces that not only establishes our 14-year-old protagonist as someone not to be trifled with, but will have you howling at how well she tightens the screws on a crooked businessman. Jeff Bridges’ Rooster Cogburn is a grumpy, wrinkled wad of witticisms and Matt Damon’s Labeouf is a bumbling fool – each offering line after line of hilarious turns of the phrase keeping the film from ever getting trapped in the mire of its own heaviness; It maintains an even keel balance between the bleak story – that of a young girl tasking marshals to hunt, and hopefully kill, the bandit that murdered her father in cold blood in undeveloped Indian land – with a sense of humor that flutters back and forth between being a bit light hearted before finding itself squarely in the realm of the Coens’ classic dark proclivities.
More than anything else, this is a performance film. Even the smallest roles are handed to actors that give them enormous weight, most interestingly Josh Brolin and Barry Pepper – each of whom are given only a handful of minutes on screen, with each delivering upon every second given. Damon and Bridges both give Oscar worthy performances, with Bridges giving the best male performance of the year, hands down. And everything you’ve heard about Hailee Steinfeld is absolutely true; she is a show stealing wonder that stands toe-to-toe with every other actor in the film and comes out on top. If there is a way to walk out of this film and not talk about her, I’ve not heard of it. She’s the reason the film works as perfectly as it does.
It is a film so good that it not only qualifies as one of the best of the year, but as one of the very best westerns ever made. There is not one bad thing I can find to say about this film, not one moment that didn’t work on every level it was aiming for. And as much of a fan as I am of O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? and MILLER’S CROSSING, I honestly feel that this film surpasses both as the very best thing they’ve ever made. Most importantly, I can’t ever imagine revisiting the John Wayne version again, except as a curiosity. The original is a great film, but this is far and away better; it’s darker, funnier and speaks more about the human condition than Henry Hathaway’s version ever did. If you’d asked me a few weeks ago if I could ever imagine anyone as Roster Cogburn aside from John Wayne, I would have told you know. Now, I’m not only convinced quite the contrary, but I’m curious if, with time, Jeff Bridges might cement himself as THE Rooster Cogburn.
Yes, the film is exactly that good. I’ve viewed it both in the theater and at home on DVD and will no doubt pay to go see it again on the big screen just to experience it big at least one more time. It is a greatly cinematic film and is a crime to miss in theaters. This comes with THE HIGHEST OF RECOMMENDATIONS. See it as early, and as often, as possible.
Until next time friends,
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