Saturday, December 25, 2010

Coen's Grit

Kimberly Rae and I, as noted, followed our Christmas tradition, started last year with The Road by John Hillcoat, went to True Grit by Joel & Ethan Coen.

I'll hardly be the first to say so, but it really is an improvement over True Grit by Henry Hathaway in every significant way.

In fact, if anything, it's noticeable that the three strongest supporting performances in the original, by Strother Martin, Dennis Hopper and Robert Duvall, are practically mimicked here by Dakin Matthews, Domhnall Gleeson and Barry Pepper, or at the least cast to match, despite the Coen's claims that their memories of the original are, at best, hazy.

That's as close as I'm going to come to a complaint about this movie, though, and I wouldn't count it as such.

Jeff Bridges is a brilliant Rooster Cogburn, perfectly capturing the wandering life, including a time serving under William Quantrill in the border wars. It's a haunted performance, but a quietly haunted one.

Matt Damon does several times better than merely bettering Glen Campbell's notorious performance. He conveys the bluster of the character as well as the genuineness of the insecurity just below the surface of the character. Not to mention that he perfectly captures the feeling from the book that La Boeuf almost holds his own against Cogburn in their battle of wits.

Josh Brolin in a very short time conveys a lifetime of slow-wittedness and failure.

But appropriately, the movie does belong to newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, who is both irritating and admirable in her portrayal of Mattie Ross and her earnest Protestant attitudes.

The movie is a triumph. The Coen's script perfectly captures the spirit of the novel, its sadness, its humor, its tragedy, its triumph, its rage.

While the Hathaway movie has survived the test of time for the amount of the book it does manage to capture, as well as being the movie John Wayne won an Oscar for, I think this one will stand the test of time as a true representation of the spirit of the book and a genuinely wholly great work of cinema.

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