Unreal Movie Review: True Grit

It’s a rare quality in a movie that what shines brightest are not its stars, nor anything you actually see onscreen. As uncommon as such a discovery might be, it always is fantastic when a film truly puts the script front and center, and because of the quality of writing, everything else just falls in place.

Such is the case with True Grit, Joel and Ethan Coen’s perfect blend of drama, action and comedy. They’ve been deadly serious previously, with titles like Blood Simple and No Country for Old Men, and they’ve swung the pendulum the other way as well, with over the top absurdist comedy in Burn After Reading and Raising Arizona. But True Grit toes the line almost perfectly, so much so it’s almost hard to classify it in a genre. I’ll just go with “Western Action Comedy” which would classify it alongside Shanghai Noon and Wild Wild West, for better or worse I suppose.

It will catch you off guard, as the way the film’s been advertised, you wouldn’t expect it to make you laugh out loud as much as it does. Rather it’s sold as a revenge flick with badasses Matt Damon and Jeff Bridges helping a girl avenger her father’s death. Sure, there’s a rogue joke about an eyepatch in the trailer, but nothing to correctly indicate the tone of the film, which is far more lighthearted than what’s portrayed.

How could it not be a comedy if Matt Damon has facial hair like this?

The script makes the dynamic between Cogburn (Bridges), the surly US Marshall, LaBoeuf (Damon), the cocksure Texas Ranger, and Mattie (newcomer Hailee Steinfeld), the little girl, electric, and the script is by far the most cleverly written of any film out this year.

But don’t misunderstand, True Grit is full of great performances as well. Bridges redeems himself from phoning in Tron Legacy last week, as the powerful centerpiece here. I initially was worried Matt Damon would feel out of place in a genre piece like this, but once you see the demeanor of the character, the casting choice make perfect sense.

But we expect great performances out of those two, rather the real story here is young Hailee Steinfeld as the headstrong Mattie (both the character and the actor are 14), plucked from absolute obscurity in an open casting audition. It was a risky bet for the Coens, but one that paid off in full. With the help of the brilliant script, Hailee owns the part, and dominates every scene she’s in despite appearing alongside seasoned veterans. It had to be a massive amount of pressure, but there’s no critique at all for her performance here. It’s like signing with a MLB team after the coach watched you throw a ball around in your backyard, and in your first start, you pitch a perfect game.

Expect to see more from this one.

The film is a series of exhilarating and humorous ups and downs as the trio chases down Tom Cheney (Josh Brolin, who shines in his limited scenes). The only misstep comes at the very end with the addition of an epilogue that makes the film end on a sour note. With how funny the film is, all that good will toward the script and the character of Mattie is wasted in a “25 years later” flashforward that offers no satisfying conclusion. It’s like the Coens thought their movie was too lighthearted for its own good, and decided to shift gears in tone to something far more serious in the film’s closing moments. They should have just realized what they had going, and rode that out to the end.

But outside the odd last few moments, it’s far and away one of the most enjoyable films of the year. It’s a safe bet that it elicits ten times the laughs of Little Fockers playing next door, when that’s the one being sold as the typical holiday pick. But trust me, while you’re home if you see one movie as a family unit, make it True Grit.

4.5 out of 5 stars

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  1. Paul…Your beef then would be with the author of the book, Charles Portis, as they were very close to the book in their screenplay. The original with John Wayne(who won an Oscar for the role) took the lighter-ish ending, try the original if the new ending is too bleak for your tastes.

    That’s like blaming the director(Milos Forman) of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest because of it’s bleak ending when it had such a comic tone throughout the rest of the movie.

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