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True Grit

February 20, 2011

True Grit (2010)
Directors: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Actors: Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld, Matt Damon

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Synopsis: A wilful young girl (Hailee Steinfeld) recruits a washed-up old cowboy (Jeff Bridges) to hunt down the killer of her father.

ReviewTrue Grit signifies the logical artistic and commercial maturation of the Coen brothers – a thirty year journey that has seen them move from their eccentric, ‘independent’ origins to the major players they now are on the Hollywood scene. That’s not to damn them, because they’ve generally been able to retain their authorial autonomy from within that system, and their work has remained identifiably distinctive, irrespective of the budget, stars and genre at their disposal. Thus, True Grit is exemplar of just how easy movie-making seems for the Coen brothers, and it’s a joy to see them churn out such a proficient and consummate picture from material tailor-made for them – a wry Western full of colourful characters and a strong revenge plot hook that masks deeper, more ‘universal’, themes underneath. As ever, Roger Deakins’ cinematography is impeccable, particularly in the latter section of the movie when the story really starts to spread out onto its canvas of the American Western. And the trademark ‘quirky’ dialogue is there too, particularly in the preternaturally mature and eloquent musings of Hailee Steinfield’s heroine (incidentally, it’s a tremendously assured and graceful performance from Steinfeld).

This love of the idiosyncracies of language and their motley array of characters does seem to occupy the Coens more than the meandering story of True Grit at times, but very suddenly in the last-third, those plot mechanics come in to play, and the Coens are absolute dab hands at drawing together all the emotional and thematic arcs of the film to a satisfying conclusion. Especially memorable is when Bridges’ character races Steinfeld back to safety, conjuring a surreal horseback sequence that pays homage to the weirdness and rawness of the old West (there’s even something of The Night of the Hunter about it). Even if ultimately the Coens are losing a slight air of ‘freshness’ and the capacity to genuinely surprise their audience, at least we can take succour from the knowledge that they will be making charming and quality little genre exercises like this for some time yet. (February 2011)

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