At the Movies with Alan Gekko: True Grit “2010”

MPAA Rating: PG-13/ Genre: Western/ Stars: Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Hailee Steinfeld, Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper, Domhnall Gleeson, Bruce Green, Ed Lee Corbin, Roy Lee Jones, Paul Rae, Nicholas Sadler, Dakin Matthews, Leon Russom/ Runtime: 110 minutes

Well movie goers I just have to ask: how often is it that a film of this ilk comes into the world around us? I ask because The Coen Brother’s 2010 entry in the Western genre True Grit manages to defy almost all known logic in the world of cinema. Indeed not only is this remake better than the original movie, which starred John Wayne no less, but it is also better than the original source material in both sense of pace and purpose. Indeed this is a film which manages to work on a level that is both in-depth and truly, from a superficial perspective, phenomenal as we see that the narrative is one about courage, integrity, and honor while the movie itself is of the highest standard possible due to placing the story before anything else, but then backing it up admirably with wonderful helmsmanship, cinematography, and incredible performances from a truly gifted cast. Indeed, as to be expected, The Coen Brothers do a wonderful job at keeping the boat steady as it were and thus ensure that this film moves along with an air of both integrity and never comprising in regards to any part of the finished product whatsoever. Thus if anything, True Grit is a wonderful advocate for the long-held belief amongst some of Hollywood that being able to tell a riveting story and having the tech know-how to boot is still in every feasible way possible better than making a movie that is all noise and no substance to it in the slightest.

The plot is as follows: True Grit tells the story of a young woman from Arkansas by the name of Mattie Ross who, when our film opens, is on a mission. We soon learn that Mattie’s pa was recently whacked by a coward of a man who goes by the name of Tom Chaney, thus leaving Mattie to travel to a town known as Fort Smith in order to grease the wheels of justice just a little bit. However once she has been able to settle her father’s final affairs and learns that the law has no interest, or just can’t, go after this murderer, Mattie decides to recruit a tough yet prone to the bottle one-eyed U.S. Marshall by the name of  “Rooster” Cogburn to aid her in her mission. Yet despite being quite on edge about taking part, Rooster finally goes along not through a guilt trip, but through the stubborn Mattie persuading him through the promise of money. Of course it isn’t long before Mattie and Rooster’s expedition is made even more complicated due to the arrival of a member of the Texas Rangers known simply as “LaBoeuf” who has made it his mission to bring Chaney back to Texas to face justice for his part in the homicide of a state legislator. Thus, despite their differing goals on wanting to catch this desperado, our trinity of intrepid heroes soon head out on a quest across the terrain in order to find this scum who they assume to be sharing close quarters with a gang of bandits led by a notorious outlaw known as “Lucky” Ned Pepper…

Now this is a film that manages to be truly excellent in a pair of distinct yet connected areas. First and foremost is the fact that this movie manages to be quite the riveting saga of a blossoming sense of respect set against a canvas that takes the form of a quest for both justice and vengeance in equal measure. The second thing is the fact that this is a truly amazing achievement in the history of movie magic since even though in many respects this is a film which is technically a “Western” it manages to encapsulate the genre without a lot of the typical clichés in said genre at the same time. Indeed the narrative in this film is not stylish in that old-west manner, but rather grounded and real especially when it comes to the neutrality that humanity is saddled with, pun intended, in this movie. Indeed in all fairness, there is a subtle sense of what can be construed as “good” and “evil” to be found and even very loose team-ups of a sort. Yet despite those being present, the film’s narrative gets underway as we witness each individual character not only looking for their own interests and seeing the other characters in the cast as nothing more than pawns they can use to accomplish their goals be it for vengeance, justice, profit, or to be free among others. Indeed it is from this self-centeredness that we see a curious degree of “friendship” develop. Actually, in all fairness “friendship” might be going too far; rather I think it is safe to say that “respect” would be a better term. Indeed as the narrative moves along, so too does each of the main character’s level of acceptance towards the others as their various attributes both good and bad begin to show up whilst on the hunt for their quarry. Be that as it may be, the bond that begins to develop proves to be our trinity’s strongest asset in bringing Chaney and his associates to justice even if their forms of what that justice consists of may differ.

Now this film is also blessed with the fact that it’s riveting and engaging to say nothing of multilayered tale is supported quite capably by the top-notch craftsmanship behind the camera which aids this film in being a true golden example of just what cinema can bring to our lives when done right. Indeed this may seem like quite the high amount of praise, but all you will need to do in order to see it warranted is just watch this film. As a result not only will you understand, but also see just how The Coen Brothers have managed to perfect their craft even after their 2007 masterpiece No Country For Old Men. A film it is worth noting was, much in the same vein as this film, a flawlessly designed film that was constructed upon brilliantly-realized subtle cinematic methods that prefer narrative over the superficial ingredients. Thus this is a film which at the same time is both an expertly-done cinematic outing whilst also feeling nothing like a film period. Indeed the Coens manage to completely immerse you in the narrative so much that instead of a viewer, you might feel like you are on this expedition with our characters. At the same time however, this film manages to provide audiences with a brilliant mix of both old-school sensibilities and modern-day sense of slickness. Indeed it really is something else to see just how every frame of the finished film manages to ensnare the essence of the film as a whole. Not just that, but there is a phenomenal vibe of realism that is also ensnared just based of not only what a great job the costume makes and the set designers have done, but also in just how vibrant what we are seeing on screen has been captured on film. Thus what are we left with is a film that is both engaging yet also feels like old-school Western film in a lot of ways thus giving audiences a wild, wild ride that they will want to take time and time again.

Yet astonishingly, despite the presence of so many good ingredients already in play in this film, the acting is just as good if not better. I say this because without a doubt in my mind, there is a quintet of downright phenomenal performances in this film, four done by esteemed and established thespians and the other, undoubtedly the finest of the group, coming from a then unknown Hailee Steinfeld who is absolutely terrific and manages to embody the character of Mattie perfectly. Indeed the character of Mattie is supposed to be a more mature than her age of 14 would suggest young woman and who has a wider vocabulary than anyone else, but there is a single word that she still absolutely loathes above all others: “no.” On that note, it should be pointed out just how intriguing, potent, integrity-filled, and true to the character Steinfeld’s turn in this proves to be. Indeed it’s not just that she has the gift of enunciating in a way that seems more mature and professional, but also in how she carries herself and is able to showcase only a tiny bit of the fear that Mattie feels on the inside despite being as cool as a cucumber on the outside that makes this one truly delightful and remarkable performance. We also get absolutely wonderful work from perennial screen icon Jeff Bridges as he leaps headfirst into the part that was made famous by none other than John Wayne and makes it his own through and through. Indeed Bridges actually makes for a take on Rooster that is actually, gasp, more believable, than Wayne’s though this may be due to the fact that Wayne never really seemed to get away from his giant personality in his take even if it was through and through still a quite delightful performance. Indeed Bridges, in his defense, is most certainly not low-key in any way, but he manages to immerse himself in everything from the heftiness, the iconic eyepatch, the messy hair, and the weight-leaden coat which really make the character of Rooster and manages to give us a character that is equal parts imposing yet also gentle giant in a lot of ways. To that end, Bridges work definitely makes this THE portrayal of Rooster Cogburn to beat and is quite fantastic in all the best ways. Just as well cast as Bridges however is Matt Damon who may initially have been looked at with a raised eyebrow when it was announced he would be playing the confident to the point of arrogance Texas Ranger LaBoeuf, but Damon manages to look and act the part so well that he literally becomes the character thus making for a truly remarkable performance. Finally we also get dependably wonderful performances from Josh Brolin and Barry Pepper as the ruthless villains at the heart of the search. Indeed they may not have as much in the way of screen time as our trinity of heroes, but nevertheless they still manage to carry themselves with a edge and a grit that makes them ruthless yet still human antagonists.

All in all I am pleased to say that the 2010 take on True Grit is not only better than its 1969 predecessor, but it also might just be better than the original story it is based off of too. Indeed there really isn’t that much left to say that I haven’t already save for the fact that this is an accomplishment in the world of movie magic that really doesn’t come around as often as it ought to. If nothing else, I think it is safe to say that the dynamic duo that is Joel and Ethan Cohen together are among the finest film helmers in the business. Indeed their phenomenal skill for not making films, but rather iconic slices of cinematic pie is nearly unrivaled. Of course, and in all due fairness, it doesn’t hurt when they are adapting works from such accomplished and celebrated scribes as Cormac McCarthy and Charles Portis, but the fact that they can bring them to life so vividly from the printed page is truly remarkable. Indeed from the performances, the costumes, the directing, and everything in between this is without a doubt one of the finest films of the year 2010 and is a true must-see in every sense of the word. On a scale of 1-5 I give True Grit “2010” a solid 4 out of 5.