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True Grit

In the midst of Saturday's heat, I went and saw True Grit, the latest film staring Jeff Bridges and made by the Coen Brothers.

I went despite the fact that I haven't felt as if the Coen Brothers have made a good film since Oh Brother Where Art Tho?, a film that some may or may not agree with me on being good. I though it was a pretty funny retelling of the Odyssey, but I can see how it might piss some folk off. Either way, the Big Lebowksi is one of my favourite films, and I felt that the Coen Brothers with Bridges again might overcome what I've come to characterise as bland, tensionless film making on the part of the brothers. I can honestly say it has been years since I've felt engaged by a Coen Brothers film, and not even the Cormac McCarthy inspired No Country for Old Men could dissuade me of this belief.

And, truthfully, neither did True Grit.

A remake of a not terribly good John Wayne film, True Grit has only the performance of Bridges and his young co-star, Hailee Steinfeld to fully recommend it, and even then, I would have to admit that in the case of Bridges, he has done better (Steinfeld I don't know about, but I will say this: she looks a lot more Asian in images outside the film, a fact I discovered by opening the IMDb to check the spelling of her name). Yet, Bridges is engaging in his reprisal of the Wayne role of Rooster Gogburn, the tough, drunken, morally dubious US Marshal who is hired by the young daughter of a murdered man. That the story that unfolds fails to engage the viewer in any real way, or offer any concept of tension, isn't his fault, but that of the Coen Brothers, who appear to have mislaid any ability they had to create a scene that fully envelopes the viewer and subjects them to the experience that the characters are having in the film. I'm not quite sure why this is, mind you, since to all extents and purposes, the pair understand film making to a competent degree, with the look of the film and the music being fairly seamless in maintaining the authenticity of the time the film is set. I suspect that it in part rises from the fact that they don't ever put their characters in positions where they can be threatened, or where the audience believes that a terrible thing can happen. In fact, you might argue that they actively seek to not immerse their audience, for despite Mattie's attack by the snake at the end, there's never any credible sense in the film that she could die, or that she will suffer terribly, since you never see what happens with the doctor and her treatment.

That said, I didn't dislike the film. I had a decent time in it, in part because I do have a soft spot for Bridges, and because there's nothing bad about how it is made. Rather, it is the question of choice that the Coen Brothers have made to what to show and what not to, and how to convey the threat and tension of their film.


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Feb. 10th, 2011 08:05 pm (UTC)
Without going into debate on the film (I loved it), a minor correction - it's a film version of the 1968 novel by Charles Portis, not a remake of the 1969 film.
Feb. 10th, 2011 11:40 pm (UTC)
heh. that's a bit like splitting hairs though, isn't it? given that the portis book is what was used by the first film, and that they may have not heard of it without the more well known flick (which i may be wrong, but i believe is what got wayne an oscar)?
Feb. 11th, 2011 12:14 am (UTC)
Not really, since the Wayne film is a very loose adaptation of the novel, while the Coen film is much more faithful to the original text.
Feb. 11th, 2011 12:21 am (UTC)
yeah, that i know. still, i think we'll have to split the dif, as i reckon there's enough in the film to claim it a remake, though a more faithful remake to the original source...

yes, i just said that.
Feb. 11th, 2011 12:34 am (UTC)
I guess you're right. It's just like how Geoffrey Wright's 2006 movie Macbeth was a remake of the 1971 Polanski Macbeth, rather than being based on, y'know, Shakespeare's play.
Feb. 13th, 2011 02:56 am (UTC)
"...mislaid any ability they had to create a scene that fully envelopes the viewer and subjects them to the experience that the characters are having in the film."

I don't recall any of the characters getting stamped and posted.
Feb. 13th, 2011 03:58 am (UTC)
but how cool would that have been!
Feb. 13th, 2011 08:36 am (UTC)
Indeed. Just taking the piss anyway.

True Grit was a fairly typical later Coens movie. It did have a passel of wonderful set pieces and some brilliant characters, but the story as a whole wasn't of the greatest.

I still think it's a great film, though. I love the way the Coens resist dwelling on the conventionally significant plot points, for example the death of Chaney, which is over and replaced by other difficulties so quickly that we're scarcely given time to contemplate it.
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