After months upon agonizing months of waiting quite impatiently, True Grit finally opened tonight and I was in my seat 40 minutes early with beverage in hand. No one else but the Coen brothers could possibly drag me out to a theater full of coughing old people on a week night. That is, not when there’s still yet another crap filled day of work in store before Christmas vacation. You’ll do what you have to though when your favorite screen play writers/directors craft another cinematic hug. From the moment H.I. Mcdunnough scraped his knuckles on that trailer’s popcorn ceiling in Raising Arizona, I’ve been fanatical for anything they touch. Even the mediocre stuff (The Lady Killers, Intolerable Cruelty) is still better than many film maker’s best efforts. But man when they’re at their best, (Fargo, Oh Brother Where Art Thou, No Country for Old Men, and my favorite of all time The Big Lebowski) it’s the reason why I and most people watch movies. To escape. To be taken to a place your imagination could never dream up because you don’t have the capacity or the wit to get there. The most you can hope for is that someone else is blessed with the talent to do so and by God did that ever happen with the Coens. I read their screenplays constantly, searching for the formula, for the gift that they have but it’s impossible to replicate. The most that I will be allowed is just to appreciate the mastery that they have been anointed with.
Now if you have seen the original True Grit with John Wayne and are thinking this is a remake, well, you can just put that notion right back in your pocket. This is not your pappy’s version. No slight to the original mind you, it was the only movie Wayne ever won an Oscar for and one of the main reasons I developed a love of Westerns. Daydreaming about riding horses through the prairie, kicking ass, getting sweet revenge and so on filled my head quite a bit during my “Cable Guy” childhood. But the original was a “movie”, what the Coens’ have done is made a film. Instead of just giving the people a redux, they broke out the Charles Portis novel and said “Let’s do OUR thing” in much the same way as they did with Cormac Mccarthy’s “No Country”. It’s as authentic in the realms of Western’s as you will find while still being scrubbed fresh with their freakish brilliance. If you beg to know how they did it you’ll simply get a humble “We just lifted it from the book”. They haven’t even seen the original since childhood and just plain never got around to it during prep. Ask them if they’ll watch their adaptation more than once and they’ll tell you, “probably not”. It’s down right kooky to be that damn good.
An even dispersal of credit has to be dealt when it comes to the cast. If you’ve been longing to see them work with Jeff Bridges again, his turn as Rooster Cogburn is every bit as epic as the cosmic strangle hold that he had on “The Dude”. But while Jeffrey Lebowski was a pot smoking pacifist, Rooster Cogburn snuffs out so many men on a frequent basis, he can’t quite recall if it’s 14 or 24. In one of the opening scenes as he testifies about one such incident, we are enlightened to the fact that those are just the ones he killed. If you ask him how many he’s shot, who knows how much ink it would take to write that list. Precisely why the clever and wise 14 year old, Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) seeks out the Deputy Marshall to help bring Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) the man who robbed and killed her father to justice. Steinfeld’s portrayal is immaculate and will instantly force you into complete fandom. When an older voice of the character reflectively narrates during the train ride to town for her father’s remains, “You must pay for everything in this world. There is nothing free except the grace of God” her fortitude is cemented.
Matt Damon has made a long haul from being lampooned as a mouth breathing imbecile in Team America-World Police and his take on Texas Ranger La Boeuf makes Glen Campbell’s role in the original seem like HE’s developmentally disabled. Was he? I’m sorry Glenn, Merry Christmas. Damon’s La Boeuf is sharp, cocky and the dialogue between Mattie and he during their first meeting will leave you howling. In fact, much of True Grit will have you laughing your fool head off when you’re not wincing at the necessary violence that is put upon the very deserved. There is nothing compromised with the PG-13 rating. It will satisfy any blood lust you may require. While Brolin’s part is small as an intellectually challenged thief and murderer, he delivers everything you’ve come to expect from him. Don’t even bring up “Jonah Hex” as I’ve deleted it from my memory banks. He was far too good for that pile so let’s just pretend it didn’t happen. Same thing with Barry Pepper as Lucky Ned Pepper (must’ve been in the stars) who plays a small role also but takes it straight to the bone like always. You’d honestly be hard pressed to find anyone (even the smallest character) left to chance which seems to be a running theme with the Coens. They don’t think of anybody in their movies as just an incidental. Every actor is a part of the machine that drives the script expertly.
I’d really be a dope if I didn’t mention the cinematography which was stunning but ultimately the dialogue is the glue. With lines like “If they wanted a proper burial they should’a got themselves kilt in summertime”, you’ll find yourself smiling like a goon as the accurate dialect is hysterically and poignantly delivered with perfect timing for the full length. And while the majority of Joel and Ethan’s works are dripping with irony, its not a driving force this go around. Have no doubt , it’s coated in their juices what with the expert set ups of each scene which climax perfectly into the mega moviegasm at the end, it’s still much more literal than the majority of their works.
There is absolutely no way the Duke is spinning in his grave on this one. If anything, he’s tippin’ a hat to a couple of pilgrims who took his best movie and made it even better. O.k., The Sons of Katie Elder was his BEST but whatev’s. Just saying, even if you can’t afford to go to Maui for the Holidays, you can still take a 2 hour MENTAL vacation via the Coen Brothers Express. I promise, five minutes in and you won’t even notice the hacking geriatric two rows back.