Since this blog has made the full-on switch to being a pop culture blog, I have written about every newly released film that I have gone to theatrically but two. Those two outliers have been A Serious Man and Burn After Reading.
With A Serious Man, I had begun to write an entry, but I had this weird idea about how the movie had a weird anti-technology/trappings-of-modern-society angle it was working on that I was relatively unsure about* and didn't want to finish until I had seen it a second time. That second viewing never happened. Neither did the blog entry.
*I once convinced myself that Radiohead's Hail to the Thief was almost entirely an anti-Bush album, a reading that I seemed to be entirely alone on when I talked this over with friends. I definitely wanted to be sure on the A Serious Man thoughts, and the theory was just a kernel.
I went to True Grit for the first time last Thursday, but I was tired from not having slept much for the two nights prior to going and ended up dozing off for what I figured was about five minutes. After going to it again, it would seem more like I missed about two minutes the first time. That I had to see it a second time (or at least felt obligated to) does not make me upset at all.
True Grit is outstanding.
While the Coen Brothers post-The Man Who Wasn't There output has been hit-or-miss, True Grit is most definitely a hit. Joel and Ethan Coen have churned out another highly stylized script with pitch-perfect dialogue that rivals their best work in Fargo, Lebowski, and O Brother. They have discovered the world in which these characters live and made it ooze from every corner of every frame in this film.
As for those characters, they are great. Jeff Bridges is in top form as the world weary Marshal Rooster Cogburn, grizzled, hardened, uneducated, drunk. Not once do you think that he is the same actor who was the coach in Stick It. Matt Damon steals every scene he is in as the loquacious and comically prideful Texas Ranger LaBoeuf. Barry Pepper and Josh Brolin are both remarkably filthy and seem so authentically Wild West criminals that you would think a time machine had been employed to get them in the movie.
And then there is Hailee Steinfeld. Color me shocked. I went into this film expecting next to nothing from the lead. I was actually leery about the movie as a whole because Mattie Ross was said to be in every scene, and having so much of a film reliant upon the performance of a child actor is not a proposition I take to without a good bit of trepidation. Such worries were unnecessary, as she plays Mattie with such pugnacity and gumption that one can hardly tell she has appeared in only a handful of projects, most of them shorts. If it was not for her shockingly good turn, True Grit would fall flat on its face. Instead, we got a film that was easily one of the best of 2010.
While having neither read the book nor seen the original adaptation of the Charles Portis novel, this film is great on its own merits. As the Coen Brothers are wont to do, they imbue this world on the fringe of civilization with nuggets of oddness that simultaneously put the Coen Brothers' stamp on the film and let the viewer know just exactly how far from society Mattie & Co. are. The entire sequence from when they happen upon the hanged man to after they happen across the frontier dentist in the bear skin doesn't really serve to advance the narrative at all, but it is strangely vital to making the film work. These flairs set this film apart from your standard theatrical fare, and we should all be thankful for that.