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  • Writer's pictureCaleb Parkin

Gert Grit – ‘True Grit’ review

I recently wrote a review of the Coen brothers’ ‘True Grit’ for a new Bristol publication called ‘The Bristol Man’.

Fingers crossed I can keep reviewing in future – I enjoyed writing this one.

The review follows if that link doesn’t work:

True Grit March 16, 2011 – 1:11 pm

The Coen brothers’ take on the Western blazes an intriguing trail

“If you would like to sleep in a coffin, it would be alright.” My brain is littered with Coen brothers’ dialogue: from the drawling Minnesotan ‘Jaaaas’ of Fargo, to ze German Nihilists of The Big Lebowski. True Grit has certainly added to the stockpile…

A remake of the 1969 saddles-and-spurs caper which won John Wayne an Oscar, the story concerns precocious, yet beguiling, Mattie (newcomer Hailee Steinfield), a 14 year old girl whose father was murdered and robbed on their doorstep, in nascent and untamed Arkansas. Determined for justice, she uses her considerable force to seek someone with ‘true grit’ to help find the killer. Whisky-addled Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) takes up the challenge – somewhat begrudgingly – alongside over-preened and jangly Texas Ranger, La Boeuf (Matt Damon), who seeks the killer for his own reasons. Their partnership is an uneasy one from the off – not least as Mattie insists on pursuing them into the Choctow territory in which the killer hides. Justice is far from swift or, very often, just.

Questions of justice are at the film’s core: various forms are presented – vigilante, Godly, judiciary – but no definitive answers given. It’s what I’d call a ‘revenge farce’ – a type of story the Coens specialise in. As in No Country For Old Men, bad people do horrific things, but it isn’t just them it returns upon. The film doesn’t shy away from violence, which is often slapstick, ugly and unnecessary. Even these skilled survivors can miss a shot and, especially in boozy Rooster’s case, hit the wrong target. A lot.

Roger Deakins’ cinematography gives the expansive setting breathing space and elegant presentation: in its own right and as an aid to understanding characters who have to live in this ‘unfinished’ colonial land. Humour is important in Coen-land: in the stagy, heightened period dialogue, and moments of folly and bravado from the battling egos of cowboys and crooks. It feels as though any of the ‘minor’ characters could leap out as part of another film equally worth watching. Nobody is wasted or merely there to progress the plot. The script provides many deadpan gems, not least in Mattie’s quick-wittedness, and Rooster’s Granddad-style anecdotal ramblings.

If there is a criticism, it might be that the story develops at too much of a mosey-ing pace. But while there may be ‘space’ in setting, style and script, there isn’t any flab in the film: moments are left to linger and big questions allowed to hover. As we part with Mattie and the credits roll, questions abound: about her, the story and, not least, what the Coens will do next.

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