Sunday, December 26, 2010

TRUE GRIT (2010) - Joel & Ethan Coen

Until Pixar decides to cough up a computer-animated remake of Barton Fink, True Grit may be the closest thing we get to a children's movie from the Brothers Coen. It may also be the most straightforward film of their career. That's not to say it's disappointing; it's not that at all. It just takes some getting used to seeing the Coens in classical storytelling mode, content to tell a good old-fashioned yarn with breathtaking images, fine performances and a steadfast faithfulness to outside source material without tweaking genre conventions more than a hair. True Grit plays like an exercise--can we make a classic, old fashioned Hollywood western and keep our "Coen-ness" in check?

The answer: Yes, for the most part. There are Coen Brothers touches to be found in their very "true" adaptation of the Charles Portis novel. But you generally find them at the edges of the film, in the smaller details. You could say the love of language and rural patois is the most obvious one--this film is SUPER-LOQUACIOUS to its benefit and detriment at times--but this may be more of result of the book and their choice to keep much of the original dialogue in tact. The "Coen moments," for me, were quieter and harder to spot: Barry Pepper's rotten teeth, worse than the parking lot attendant's in Fargo; Josh Brolin's weird Kermit-the-Frog voice; the undertaker repeating several times that little Mattie may "kiss the deceased if you like." But more than anything else it was this shot...

Though Jeff Bridges' Rooster Cogburn may "pull a cork" and ride with reins in his mouth and follow the same plot trails as the Duke did in '69, I can assure you you will find no bear on a horse in the Henry Hathaway version. As much as they might try to bury their style behind Portis and the western genre in True Grit, Joel and Ethan are still hiding in plain sight right there underneath that bear skin. And thank the "Lord's abiding light" for that.

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