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Worth A Look: 13.95%
Average: 11.63%
Pretty Bad: 2.33%
Total Crap: 0%

3 reviews, 25 user ratings

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True Grit (2010)
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by Jay Seaver

"As traditional as the western and as unique as the Coen Brothers."
5 stars

No individual movie is truly necessary, but few recent films have likely seemed as unnecessary as a new adaptation of Charles Portis's novel "True Grit". At least, until after one sees it; at that point, having Joel & Ethan Coen apply their distinctive voice to this particular story seems the most natural thing in the world, and the movies would be a poorer thing without it.

Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) is a fourteen-year-old girl, but who else is going to put the affairs of her recently gunned-down father in order? Her siblings are younger than she is, her mother is certainly not up to it, and her head for sums and determination means she will likely be taking control of the business anyway. It is not just money that concerns her, though - she wants Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), the man responsible, to hang, which means hiring a marshall to track her down. Reuben "Rooster" Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) is described as the meanest in the territory, which appeals to her, even if he is a fat old drunk. Their party is crashed by Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), who wants Chaney for the murder of a Texas state senator, but even with their combined experience and determination, catching Chaney will be difficult - he has fled into Indian Territory and allegedly hooked up with Lucky Ned Pepper (Barry Pepper).

This initially seems a very talky western; Mattie's years-later narration is initially plentiful, and there is a wonderful bit of black humor that comes from the last words of three men about to hang. We see Mattie's talents as a hard (and pushy) negotiator, many jokes are made about how LaBoeuf (pronounced "La Beef") does like to run on, and even Rooster turns fairly chatty after a bit. The words come in big, chewy chunks, the sort that gives the audience a clear indication of the level of education nd sophistication the various characters have (or wish to project). More often than not, the exact words are not nearly so important as the grammar and way it rolls off the tongue.

The assembled cast helps a lot with the latter part, naturally. Though her name appears after her better-known, more experienced castmates, Hailee Steinfeld is the film's impressive star. A lesser actress might just manage the grim-faced Mattie, mature and hardened beyond her years; Steinfeld manages to sneak in moments of petulance without making the audience think less of Mattie, and a sense of a kid setting out for an adventure that is always there but never prominent enough to make her seem silly or immature. She manages to hold her own alongside Jeff Bridges, who makes Rooster her complement, outwardly laid-back but jaded. It's a nifty performance, in that he gives off the initial impression of being silly, but dispenses of it pretty quickly, and his interplay with the slightly puff-ed up Damon is always good. Josh Brolin and Barry Pepper make for interesting villains - dangerous not because they are typical raving or icy monsters, but because the actors convince us that Chaney's cowardice and Pepper's practicality don't have much room for respecting human life.

The Coens and company take all this and sew it all together with the genre's usual trappings, which they have a handle on as well as anyone. Regular cinematographer Roger Deakins shoots fine footage of the wide-open spaces, making them as beautiful and foreboding as the moment demands. Carter Burwell's score is always a perfect fit, making nice but not ostentatious use of traditional music. And every detail of the sets, costumes, and other production design is just right, hitting the sweet spot between backlot-clean and revisionist-gritty.

And the shoot-outs are great. Westerns are about confrontations, and everything from the last paragraph combines with the Coen's knack for setting the right pace and knowing how to quickly jump from words to action. The first shootout comes after a crackling scene where the audience gets just enough time to have the hairs on the back of its collective neck prick up, feeling like anything can happen, before the situation is quickly, violently, and decisively resolved. That sort of action can be tough; quick build-up, clear action, and a finish that doesn't leave the audience feeling cheated is a tall order, but one the movie delivers a few times.

Has it done before? Sure, and not just in the novel's first adaptation; this "True Grit" is an unashamedly traditional western even with some of the Coens' signature style. But there aren't enough of those made in this day and age that for ennui to be a reasonable reaction, and even if there were, few would be so well-done in every detail as this one.

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originally posted: 01/05/11 13:45:54
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Berlin International Film Festival For more in the 2011 Berlin International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

5/31/14 The king best of the modern westerns yet 5 stars
5/06/14 Jason One of the greatest remakes ever 5 stars
11/25/13 The rock Phenomenal acting and great storytelling 5 stars
10/02/13 josephine best modern western ever 5 stars
9/22/12 roscoe BRIDGES IS GREAT, THE GIRL IS GOOD, but no attention or use of the villain = no threat. 3 stars
8/27/12 David Pollastrini A great performance from Bridges 5 stars
8/16/11 Chris F A lot better than i expected overall worth seeing again 4 stars
6/22/11 Silkworm Flakey main characters that fail to deliver 3 stars
6/13/11 Shaun A I'm not usually into Westerns. This is impressive human drama. 5 stars
6/10/11 bill o really a fumbling feminist fantasy -- yes dreary dearly me 2 stars
4/19/11 mr.mike Comes close to an unneccesary sequel. Bridges and Brolin are nearly unintelligable. 3 stars
3/12/11 cvonsca great entertainment.One of the 2011 top five 4 stars
2/15/11 forest gump Bridges might do a better drunk impersonation but not a patch on the duke. Good overall 4 stars
2/14/11 millersxing a winsome western that packs a punch 5 stars
2/09/11 Sam decent, but nowhere close to what the Coens are capable of 3 stars
1/15/11 Ronald Holst A veryy good film worth a look 4 stars
1/05/11 Andy Good Western action film..Some dialogs are hard to understand 4 stars
1/02/11 Smitty A truly great film but sometimes hard to understand Bridges 5 stars
1/01/11 R.W. Welch First half has a certain peculiar charm to it. A- overall. 5 stars
1/01/11 RK The dialogs alone are worth a second viewing. 5 stars
1/01/11 Ming Not as good as the original ..But Still love the great performance 3 stars
12/31/10 bob ruhs great!! 5 stars
12/30/10 damalc very good, but funny in places where it shouldn't have been 4 stars
12/25/10 thetachi This movie was a lot of fun. Two big thumbs up! 5 stars
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  25-Dec-2010 (PG-13)
  DVD: 07-Jun-2011


  DVD: 07-Jun-2011

Directed by
  Ethan Coen
  Joel Coen

Written by
  Ethan Coen
  Joel Coen

  Jeff Bridges
  Matt Damon
  Josh Brolin
  Hailee Steinfeld
  Barry Pepper

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