James Helsby

LRE #51: True Grit

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Little Red Envelope

In my mailbox this week:
True Grit

Release Year: 2010

Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin

Another Oscar candidate, that I just didn’t get.

Ok, it’s true. I am not the biggest fan of the western genre. I believe I discussed that fact, way back on my review of The Good, The Bad, and The Weird. But I gave myself a challenge, to watch all of the Oscar candidates for 2010/2011 this year, and so… I must. This week, True Grit. Which came out in 2010 and starred Jeff Bridges in the ‘iconic’ role of Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogburn.

Originally the film adaptation of the 1968 novel (penned by Charles Portis) was adapted into a film in 1969, which stared John Wayne as the part of Rooster. The film is considered in many eyes to be Waynes best performance and actually won him his only Academy Award for the portrayal. I will admit, that I have not seen this version, nor have I read the original novel.

All I can go on, is the 2010 version. And having garnered 10 Academy Award nominations ( Best Picture, Best Director (Joel and Ethan Coen), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor (Jeff Bridges), Best Supporting Actress (Hailee Steinfeld), Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Sound Editing,) it seemed sure to have won a slew of awards… However, it didn’t walk away with ANY of the final Academy Awards. Odd.

Well, not really in my opinion. But first, a synopsis.

One cold winter’s night, a farm hand and drifter, Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) shoots and Kills young Mattie Ross’s father. Mattie sets out to bring Chaney to justice, by bullet or by law. But despite the fact that Chaney is sought by Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (La-Beef) [Matt Damon] under a group of different aliases. But Mattie contracts with Rooster Cogburn to go after Chaney, for $100 dollars. Under certain conditions.

First, that Chaney is brought to justice for the crime of killing her father. Second, that Mattie is there when he is brought to justice. A stern willed little girl, Mattie has had almost no experience out in the wilds, sans a fox hunting trip with her father. But Cogbrun agrees, only to depart without Mattie in tow. Mattie, astride her ‘pony’ ‘blackie’ sets off in pursuit, and finally meets up with Cogburn (who has taken LaBeouf along because he offers a greater reward than Mattie’s $100). Together they hunt for Chaney, and his gang, the Ned Pepper gang.

Perhaps one of my quickest synopsis, but there really isn’t that much to the film. Yes, it is very well filmed. Yes, Bridges is amazing. Yes, Steinfeld plays a very convincing little Mattie Ross. But really, other than that this is perhaps the worst incarnation of mumble-vision I have ever seen. I understand that it is all part of the character, a point at which they themselves poke fun of when LaBoeuf nearly bites his own tongue off. But still, the largely, the only lines spoken through out the entire movie which were understandable, were those spoken by Mattie.

It isn’t that the film was Bad, it just wasn’t Good. And perhaps that is a ramification of my non-agreeing-personality with the Western genre. I don’t know. The story itself was overtly simple. Girls’ father is killed. Girl wants revenge. Girl hires bounty hunter. Bounty hunter finds target. Target gets killed. The end. Dundada, I just saved you two hours.

I guess the real issue I have is that I don’t understand some of the Academy’s choices with film. Is it just because this was a remake of a John Wayne film? Is that the only reason that it deserved a nod? I mean, 10 nominations is a hell of a lot. Best Picture, I do not agree with for certain. Direction? No. I don’t agree with that either.

I am a well stated Coen brother’s despiser, I believe I have mentioned that fact as well. You see, the Coen brothers (to me) have this habit of saying (with their films) “Hey, check this out. Look. See what we did there? Yeah, that’s cause we are the Coen brothers. It’s Jeff Bridges. Yeap, again. You don’t get it cause you aren’t us.” Why does everyone think the Big Lebowski is such a great film? Something I just don’t get. All their films are decidedly “Coen Brothers.” They have a very particular look, and feel. They play with the character’s in a certain way that makes all of their films feel similar. Think an independent version of Michael Bay. No, no explosions… but you can still recognize the look and feel of all his movies.

Best adapted screenplay, ehh. I can’t really comment on this having never read the original novel. Best Actor, Jeff Bridges. Ehh, again. Personally I think that this was an ok choice. However, having not seen all the nominated films yet, I can only say that Bridges wasn’t really acting all that out of typical character. He was gruff, and mumble, and if changing your speech pattern is all it takes for a nod, then Colin Firth was a better choice in The King’s Speech.

Best Supporting Actress, Hailee Steinfeld. Ok, this on I can perhaps agree with. She was really good, but perhaps bordering on over-acting. But it works in the roll, because she is supposed to be this little 14-year old girl, who is out of her element,  but acting as if she has all the power because her family has a good lawyer. It was a fairly good role for a little girl to play. Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Costume, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, none of these I would really agree with either. The thing about costumes from historical periods is that there really isn’t anything new about it. They are all supposed to be real outfits that are potentially based on REAL OUTFITS. Maybe there should be an award for best seamstress.

Sound, ah. This is really my baby. Sound is something I love to nit pick. Sound Mixing and Editing have to meet one very stringent criteria. If you notice it, then something is wrong. Sounds a little off kilter, doesn’t it. But really, sound is this fundamental underlay to the film. It’s what brings the story, action, and visual representations off of the screen, and into your head. Seeing an action is only one part of a sequence, the other is hearing the action. A gun shot has very little effect without the reverberation of the report through the canyon backdrop. I will have to say that True Grit did an excellent job with sound. Capturing the open spaces and condensing those spatial emptinesses down into a palatable presentation. But, just because something was done well, doesn’t mean it was done best. And personally, Inception and Tron Legacy were better choices for sound. Inception took both, and was well deserved.

Ok, True Grit wasn’t the best film of the year. It wasn’t a bad film either. It had a very short story arch, that somehow seemed stretched over 2 full hours. If anything, it was a little long in some spots, and too short in others. Half of the film was spent just getting ready to head into the Choctaw territories, and the other half inside. Bridges was good, but not excellent. Matt Damon, was unfortunately, Matt Damon. If you were a fan of the book, or the original film, then perhaps this film is for you. As someone who has seen neither, I feel comfortable in saying that it was definitely not for me.

How painful was it: It took us two nights because the first half was so damn slow.

Rating: 4/10. True Grit was obviously not made for me, and so I did not enjoy it. Plus, Coen Brother’s films automatically get a (-1).

The Wife’s Retort: I agree. It really wasn’t that good. It wasn’t Bad, but it wasn’t good.

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