The Coen Brothers bring their unique sensibilities to the most iconic of genres.
The Coen Brothers bring their unique sensibilities to
the most iconic of genres.
the Coen brothers will do next is
like relying on the British weather forecast. It’s hazy at best. So when they announced
they were remaking the film that won John
Wayne his only Oscar some eyebrows were raised. After all, it was not the
first time that they had attempted a remake and 2004’s The Ladykillers was not up to their normal high standard. However,
the Coens had already proved with No
Country For Old Men (2007) that they could more than handle the aesthetics
of a western. Furthermore, they would argue that Grit is not a remake but a
re-imagining of Charles Portis’
source novel. Call it what you will The Coen Brothers undoubtedly strike gold
with this rodeo.
When her father
is brutally gunned down, by the outlaw Tom Chaney (Brolin), Mattie Ross (Steinfeld)
wants him bought to justice. With the law having seemingly bigger things to
worry about she tracks down US Marshall Rooster Cogburn (Bridges). Together they set off with Texas Ranger LeBoeuf (Damon) to track down Chaney.
True Grit is not
your normal run of the mill western. Yes there is beautiful scenery to bask in
and just enough gunplay to keep the action fans happy, but this is very much an
idea of the Wild West as seen through the eyes of a historically focused Coen
Brothers. In other words the attention to the rhythm of language and
back-stories involving the civil war play a crucial part in finding the
intimate details of the characters.
by Roger Deakins stunning
cinematography the look of the film is authentic, almost classic western, one
that lends new meaning to the term ‘painting with light’. Indeed Deakins uses
much of his fine work on The
Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford (2007) to recreate a
film that drips with glorious saturated colours. The opening image alone could
be displayed in an art gallery and be marveled at. Furthermore the Coens
utilise their other long-term collaborator, composer Carter Burwell, to evoke huge pride in the journey Mattie goes on.
Having said this,
True Grit is firmly a Coen Brother’s film. When looking at their body of work
it will sit neatly between their ‘serious’ and ‘quirky’ works. One minute it has
the whip-smart, scattergun dialogue of Fargo
(1996), the next the high drama and exhilaration of No Country For Old Men. As
such it is a rare occasion where the two opposing sides to the Coens work
surprisingly well in tandem.
Crucial to any
Coen work is the rich tapestry of characters they create. Casting is imperative
and here, as ever, they nail it. Bridges brings an element of ‘The Dude’ to
Cogburn and while he is sometimes hard to decipher his performance is magically
comical and gruff at all once. The climatic showdown will have you off your
horse routing for the one-eyed hero as only John Wayne could, The Duke would be
hugely proud of The Dude. Hailee Steinfeld, considerably young at only 14 when
she shot the role, is outstanding as Mattie. Wise beyond her years, more than
matching the gargantuan screen presence of Bridges and Damon, Steinfeld toys
with the Coens’ dialogue wrapping her tongue effortlessly round every syllable
with so much speed it may as well be her normal dialect. Although Oscar may
have called her a supporting actress, make no mistake she is the rock at the
centre of the film, a character that everything else is allowed to hang off and
at no point does Steinfeld look like she will buckle. More than ever though it
is Matt Damon who proves to be one of film’s most versatile actors. As LeBeouf
he brings so much pomp and self-inflated ego he is utterly unrecognisable from
his normal straight roles. Rarely do mainstream actors manage to morph
themselves into such an enjoyable caricature but, on this evidence, you would
think Damon has worked with The Coens his whole career.
The Western is a
genre which all filmmakers strive to make one day. The Coens have done it twice
but True Grit is in the classic form of the genre. The characters are
intentionally rough around the edges, but the rest of the film is so immaculately
polished that it sweeps you up and chews you up like a well worn piece of
tobacco. Saddle-up, strap on your
six-shooter and get yourself some True Grit.