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DFI Film Review : True Grit (2010)

Feb 11, 2011

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True Grit - Trailer

Written by Reem Saleh, New Media, DFI

Directors: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen

Genre: Adventure, Drama Western

Starring: Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld, Matt Damon

14 year old Mattie (Hailee Steinfeld) makes a promise to herself that she’ll capture her fathers’ killer, and hires US Marshal Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), known for his “true grit”, to assist her. Against his better wishes, Cogburn finds the young woman accompanying him on his task through Indian Territory in search of murderer Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin). Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) has his own reasons for wanting Chaney, and together the newly-formed trio embark a dangerous journey.

Although there were many challenges for the Coen brothers – not only have they adapted the screenplay from the 1968 novel by Charles Portis, but they have also made a remake of the 1969 classic, starring John Wayne – the duo don’t cease to amaze us by reviving the cowboy legacy into an Oscar worthy movie, already garnering 10 Academy Award nominations for this year. This is not the first Western for the brothers: after “No Country for Old Men” in 2007, “True Grit” is a thrilling choice.

A simple storyline based around three main characters takes you into an adventure reinforced by the harsh conditions of nature. Mountains and snow become a character, adding an esthetic dimension to the story with remarkable cinematography. You find yourself in an empty space with long shots, pale and ghostly colors, showing the tough nature that makes this journey a struggle between a promise and arduous external conditions. Horses and men are lost in large hostile scenery: it is a true test of courage.

‘True Grit’ is told from Mattie’s point of view, and she tells the story at both the beginning and end of the film: she is the primary character, and Hailee Steinfeld gives a keen performance. She doesn’t lose the innocence of the child but remains an articulate and determined young woman able to abide by the rules of a game seemingly only played by men. From her superb lead and her Oscar nomination for the film, it seems that we will be seeing a lot of her in the future.

Her character is what pulls the film together and every time Cogburn looks at her, you can read in his intense eyes that he sees his reflection in her. In the 1969 classic Cogburn, played by John Wayne, says it explicitly: “She reminds me of me”. In this updated version the appreciation is subtle and smooth, leaving you curious as to how two totally opposite characters will work together. Playing Cogburn, Jeff Bridges has built a character that only a great actor could. He was able to fight the image of the typical hero by showing that behind this harsh façade lays a man with many imperfections: an old drunk losing his skills to age and alcohol, but finding a reason to fight in the face of a young girl’s bravery. It is a well-deserved Oscar nomination for another brilliant performance by Jeff Bridges.

Matt Damon’s role as LaBoeuf is minor compared to Cogburn and Mattie, but no less important. He is the perfect combination of them: showing kindness, purity, determination and the great skills Cogburn once had, giving Cogburn the challenge he needs to redeem himself while simultaneously offering safety to Mattie.

This film contains a lot of waiting: pale colors in a pitiless nature, a heavy Western accent incomprehensible to many, and a simple storyline with three totally different characters bonded together. One hardly feels the time though, as all elements fall into harmony, leaving little to chance, and proving once again the great directing skills of the Coen brothers.

This film is a lesson in determination and bravery when one has all the reasons in the world to let go.

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