It seems to be a fact, really, that Joel and Ethan Coen are very talented filmmakers. Their films can be polarizing, but their skill and artistry is never in question. I’ve found their work ranges from really not my taste (The Ladykillers, Burn After Reading) to totally awesome (The Big Lebowski, Intolerable Cruelty). I never saw True Grit during Oscar season, and now, watching it on Blu-ray six months later, I found that it falls into the awesome category for me, which is surprising, since I don’t really care for westerns.
A young, spitfire of a girl (the excellent Hailee Steinfeld), who has lost her father, tries to hunt down his killer, and uses wise-beyond her years wheeling and dealing skills to gain the assistance of the drunk, hygiene-impaired, and ruthless U.S. Marshal, Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges). They reluctantly team up with Matt Damon’s LaBoeuf, a ranger who is also trying to track and bring to justice the same man, Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin). Their journey takes them out into the desert, where they meet up with dead bodies, crazy outlaws, and lots of guns being fired.
The cast apparently is incapable of sucking, just across the board. Damon, Brolin, and Bridges are all effortless excellence – I swear it’s in their DNA, even through Bridges’ at times incoherent mumbling, as though his mouth is constantly stuffed with Milkduds. Newcomer Steinfeld so captured the strong-willed, loyal, and determined young girl, that I feel kinda sad now that she didn’t win an Oscar. She spoke so well, and was able to use such an old-fashioned cadence, I can see why the Coens cast her.
Also on the list of Academy Awards I’m sad this film didn’t win is cinematography. My god, was this movie breath-taking. Of course the west is “big”, but Roger Deakins, the frequent Coen brothers cinematographer collaborator (that’s a mouthful) at times made things look small, and I mean that as a compliment. Scenes of silhouettes against the night sky, against a sunset, against a grove of dead cottonwood trees with a single body hanging from the highest branch – it’s all stunning and feels more intimate than immense. I’d love to have stills of certain scenes to just hang all over my house. The final, single shot, as a certain character walks off into the distance, is so classic and simple, it was almost heartbreaking. I fully believe that Inception deserved it’s win for cinematography last year, but True Grit was equally astonishing, just in a more natural way. Rarely have I felt so in awe of the images on my television screen.
I’ve never seen the John Wayne original, but I’m certain the Coens constructed a faithful remake, while also leaving their indelible mark. I laughed, cried, gasped, even covered my eyes a few times. This was the kind of film that I found I like even more, as each day goes by. Without question, the Coens are masterful, and have surrounded themselves with people equally up to the task of greatness.