15 February 2011 | bob the moo
Simply just a really solid piece of storytelling with good work across the board
I wasn't sure how to take the news that the Coen brothers were remaking the John Wayne film True Grit and I remained unsure even when it was clear that they were not so much remaking the film as making a different version of the original book. How would their humour and oddity sit in this story, how would their normal arch cynicism and cleverness work here? Well in reality it doesn't really come into play because they have made a film that is surprisingly free of that side of their work while also containing just enough in terms of characters and dialogue to make it their own. Mostly though what True Grit does is deliver an enjoyable story in an engaging and satisfying manner.
While I don't agree with IMDb observer-in-chief tedg's overall rating for the film, he is correct when he says that the western as a genre has really been thoroughly explored and it is hard to bring freshness to such a film. The Cohen's struggle with this a little bit because it doesn't feel like "their take" on a genre so much as it does just feel like a western full stop. This perhaps limits them in terms of their own style but it does mean that they are focused on the telling of the story rather than anything else they may have added for colour. The end result of this is that the film is actually a really solidly told story that perhaps doesn't soar or have flamboyance or colourful touches but it does still engage as a tale. The story will be known to those familiar with the Wayne film but the slant very much onto Mattie makes it feel like a different story, albeit with much familiar about it. It is well told though and I found myself engaged by it just as much as I was never really thrilled by it. It has heart in its main character, it has a forward motion and it has a nice touch of humour throughout.
The key to it is the performance from Steinfeld. She may well have been put forward for Supporting Actress in a political move by the studio but she is the heart and soul of this film. Her performance makes her Mattie a stubborn youth but one with juts enough vulnerability about her to suggest some of it is a front to cover herself in this regard. While she never struck me as a person that would exist within this story, she did convince me as a character and she was a delight to watch – this is her story and she makes it such. This puts Bridges in the supporting role and he is great there, having fun with the role and adding colour to things. Damon underplays wisely – sparking nicely off Bridges but letting these two having the light. Brolin, Pepper and others all deliver solid turns without stealing anything. Perhaps aware of what the genre is best known for (the landscapes) Deakins is restrained; where he made art with Jesse James, here he focuses on the smaller moments – the light from a campfire, the falling of snow – and he captures them excellently. At some point he will win his Oscar – maybe this is it but certainly his body of work cries out for it.
True Grit is not quite the brilliant piece of work that the "for your consideration" campaign would have you believe but it is a great piece of storytelling. The Coen brothers deliver some fine dialogue and colour but leave the telling free of cynicism or snideness (not a word, but you know what I mean). The story engaged me and is only made better by the strong pair of performances in the lead – but particularly Steinfeld, who makes this film in the same way that Portman made Black Swan this year.