Saturday, January 15, 2011

Oscar Watch: True Grit earns its name

Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures.

When I get tired of looking out my window at the frozen tundra of snow the Northeastern portion of the U.S. brings this time of year, I long for the West. And since I have neither the time nor the means to go out there, I do the next best thing: see True Grit.

First off, is there nothing that Jeff Bridges can't do? He's the rare breed of actor who chooses his parts carefully and once chosen, becomes them. Bridges plays the trigger-happy U.S. Marshal Reuben J. "Rooster" Cogburn, and under his cowboy hat and eyepatch, I could barely recognize him, which is ideally the spell you want to cast on the audience. Too many actors just play themselves in films, but the sign of a true professional is when you can be watching them for about 15 minutes and suddenly say to yourself, "Oh, right! That's Jeff Bridges."

The Coen Brothers have had their ups and downs in my book, and often the sort of films I've enjoyed by them have been the least popular in the eyes of critics, such as The Ladykillers (still one of my absolute FAVORITE roles Tom Hanks has ever done), whereas O Brother, Where Art Thou?, which was lauded profusely, is still only so-so in my book. But something about True Grit really touched my spirit in a way that no other Coen Brothers film has been able to do.

This is probably due in a large part to Hailee Steinfeld, playing 14-year-0ld Mattie Ross who hires Rooster to hunt down her father's killer. Steinfeld is the right combination of persistent and headstrong without managing to be a total bitch. Some of the female pride in me, and perhaps the fact I love my own father very much, caused me to become very much taken with Mattie. Maybe it was also the fact she didn't lose her accent or any of her character's attributes at any point in time, which, I hate to say, couldn't be said for some of her co-stars.

There were parts of the film that I thought were a little sloppy in terms of consistency. For instance, Matt Damon, playing a fully-outfitted, fringes and all, Texas ranger named LaBoeuf (pronounced "LaBEEF," extra drawl included) gets seriously injured at one point by being hogtied and dragged through the ground. His chin is cut and bloodied and supposedly his tongue has been mangled, but the next day there is not a trace of a cut on his face and his speech impediment, caused by the tongue injury, comes and goes. That was disappointing because beyond that Damon does a pretty solid job with the role.

The film moves fast in a sun-baked, dusty haze relieved only by occassional flurries. By the time you get to the end it's hard to believe it's actually over. And yet the evolution of the relationships between the main characters, particularly between Rooster and Mattie, are not rushed at all. Through tough times and hard experiences, both Rooster and LaBoeuf come to respect Mattie despite her youth - not unlike what might happen in the real world. And seeing Rooster's drunken, fat, bloodthirsty self turn a new, fatherly corner is one of the finest movie-going experiences I've ever seen. That's really what the story is about -the retribution plot is just the vehicle. The Coen Brothers have learned a tough technique in film storytelling - how to create a believable, evolving relationship between two hearts in a limited period of time.

In the end, you realize that the term "True Grit" is really earned by Rooster, LaBoeuf, and Mattie, as justice is served the only way it can be in the old Wild West - at the end of a pistol.

Also, if you check out the movie's website you can enjoy a rather well-done rendition of the folk tune, "God's Gonna Cut You Down."

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