Friday, February 25

Review: True Grit

The western and jazz. If Clint Eastwood is to be believed, those are the only two original American artforms. I wouldn't know about jazz, but I believe him on westerns. There are few filmgenres so closely linked to a certain time and place as the western, which always takes place in the West of the United States, circa 1865. The genre has been around for as long as movies exist, and has delivered quite some masterpieces over the years. John Ford's The Searchers, Sergio Leones Once Upon a Time in the West and Clint Eastwoods Unforgiven are all groundbreaking movies and unquestionable parts of the American cinematic canon. And with True Grit, their first real western, the Coen Brothers have earned a spot in the company of these masters.

Like many westerns, the story of True Grit is driven by revenge. Mattie Ross wants to hunt down the coward Tom Chaney for killing her father. This isn't made easier by the fact that Mattie Ross is a fourteen-year old girl. She seeks the aid of someone with experience, mercilessness and grit: US Marshal Rooster Cogburn. The two set out on their hunt with Texas Ranger Lebeouf, a man charged with hunting down Chaney and bringing him to justice in Austin. The story is straightforward and told in a straightforward way, without many twists or turns along the way. What makes True Grit so fascinating is the characters. None of them, not even the bad guys, is a stereotype. All three leading characters are fully fleshed-out tragic characters, and the dynamic between them is very much unique. It makes the movie almost unpredictable at points, quite a feat considering that everybody knows exactly how it's going to end.

This is helped in no small part by the excellent acting. Matt Damon shows us once again that he is a great supporting actor by giving LeBeouf the depth that prevents him from just being a comic relief character. Newcomer Hailee Steinfeld is fantastic as Mattie Ross, turning her into one of the most memorable characters in recent cinematic history. But, as always, it's Jeff Bridges who just walks away with the movie. He plays Cogburn without a trace of his usual layed-back stoner persona, and all for the better. This is a role that was once played by John Wayne, but it's Bridges who nails it. Who'd ever guessed it: The Dude outdid The Duke.

The bottom line about True Grit is that, when handled by the right people, the western has as much impact as ever. Although the movie hardly shakes up the formula, it does everything it does right. The acting is great, the cinematography and the music are as good as ever and the Coens directed the crap out of it. This is an instant classic if I've ever seen one.


P.S. Apparently the Coens doing horror next. I'm already exited about their inevitable musical.

I've been wanting to use this song for a long time now. Yee-haw!

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