Friday, December 17, 2010

True Grit: Not a great Cohen film, but a great Western

One thing people need to be careful of when watching remakes of movies is the nostalgia factor. That’s when a person has seen the original film a considerably long time ago, and over the years has built ups some sort of standard of the movie made from their memories. This standard they take into the theater when they go and see the remake, and because of nostalgia, incorrectly deem the new movie far worse or better than their memories of the original. There are two problems to this approach. The first is that any film should be judged on it’s own merit, let alone someone’s memories of a previous film. Secondly, usually people’s memories of a movie are wildly skewed. They take something they may have a fond memory of and put it on a pedestal. More often than not however, the original wasn’t that good to begin with. Take my experience with the original Clash of the Titans and the original Tron. I always remembered how awesome they were when I watched them as a kid, but seeing them more recently has proven that they do not age well and really weren’t that good to begin with. All that being said, anyone who actually goes down the path of making a ‘Remake’ consciously knows they are stepping into this nostalgia factor situation, and therefore I say all’s fair in the comparison department.

The original True Grit is not the cinematic masterpiece that everyone pretends to remember. It actually was quite an odd movie with John Wayne playing a colorful and unlikable fellow ‘Rooster’ Coburn. It was fraught with a lot of slow moments and wasn’t nearly as creative as some of the westerns of the time. The problem here as far as the nostalgia factor is concerned is that it was JOHN WAYNE! Luckily we have the Cohen brothers who are brave enough to attempt a remake starring the cinematic sacred cow of westerns. Here, the ‘Rooster character is played by Jeff bridges, with all the scraggly voice nonchalant-ness that screams more ‘The Dude’ from the Big Lebowski than a disgruntled US Marshall who is forced into being saddled next to comedic Texas Ranger (Matt Damon) and a little girl. It’s this Trio that carries the movie. Good thing since they are in every shot. No disrespect to Damon or Bridges…but its little Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross who steals every scene she’s in. A little fireball of resolute temper she is proper and cordial in all the wrong ways and beyond stubborn. For a lot of the film we forget she’s even a little girl, except that the filmmakers keep reminding us over and over.

What really surprised me is how much this film felt like a traditional western. “what did you think you were going to watch” you may ask? Well, the Cohen Brothers have never bee traditional anything. Look at any of their films and you will see the quirkiest examinations of characters and frank depiction of unrestrained violence as very signature to a particularly interesting style. After watching Oh Brother, Where art Thou and No Country for Old Men, one should rightfully assume that this would also pack a few surprises. But strait across the board this is a shoot-em-up, ride the trail kind of western with not much by way of surprises, introspection, off kilter characters or even black humor. This I would argue may be their most strait forward movie to date. Perhaps the; lack of style can be attributed to the fact that they try to span a lot of different genres. Comedy, action, drama, western, etc. are all on display here which doesn’t leave much room for experimentation or bucking conventional trends like so many of their other movies do.
The lack of the Cohen style is actually a good thing here. Rarely will you see a movie where you laugh about loud one minute only to be horrified by violence the next. Rarely is there a film where you are so engrossed in the characters that you forget their acting, and most importantly it’s a Cohen brother film that doesn’t draw attention to the fact that it’s a movie. Most of the films by these brethren have so many homages, quirks, tricks and scenes that take you out of the film; they become exercises in self-reflectivity and awareness. Here, the movie doesn’t mind being just a movie. It’s telling a story without all the normal minimalist embellishments which makes for a much more fulfilling experience, despite the fact that nothing feels new or clever like in their other movies.

The special effects could have been much better and I am sad that Josh Brolin only had a very small role. He was fun. Other than that, this is quite a worthy western. Maybe not John Wayne worthy (I’ll take the Searchers any day) but good enough to do the genres proud. Taking into consideration the nostalgia factor, I won’t be surprised that many people leave shaking their heads at how it wasn’t as good as the predecessor. Only time will truly tell, but right off the bat I believe the Cohen’s have done the Wayne classic proud. There’s plenty that the film tips its hat too, but it’s enough of an original on it’s own right to merit its own viewing, despite how much you love John Wayne. It may not have the charm of the original, but it’s a better movie.

Final Consensus:
See it now!!!!
See it in theaters!!!
Rent it on DVD/BluRay!!
Wait for it on TV!
Don’t Bother

Post a Comment