Wednesday, 2 March 2011

True Grit: review

I love the Coen Brothers - well, mostly. I loved The Hudsucker Proxy, even though it was flawed; I loved Fargo; I loved The Big Lebowski. Surprisingly, I loved rather less O Brother Where Art Thou?, which seemed (despite, or more probably because of, its Odysseanic origins) aimless to me (though of course The Soggy Bottomed Boys provided amusement.)

True Grit is similarly helmed by the Coen Brothers. It has, on the surface, many of the qualities present in their other films: a certain quirkiness of style; a quest / journey narrative; a deeply imbued Americanness. The film starts with a sentimental voiceover which put me on the alert at once. 'It's all right,' said one of my companions, 'it's the start of the novel.' Phew, I thought. However the rest of the film did little to bear out my worries.

The heroine is Mattie (Hailee Steinfeld), a fourteen year old girl with vengeance on her mind: her father has been killed by a vagrant (Josh Brolin) (who I was convinced was called Dick Cheney - alas it was Tom Chaney). We first see her negotiating with someone over three ponies. We were meant to find her mature and ballsy as she knocked down her opponent; I felt the scene went on a little too long. She hires Jeff Bridges - a marshal with 'true grit' - to help her bring in the nasty murderer; Texas Ranger Matt Damon comes along too (displaying an alarming preference for spanking adolescent girls with twigs.) The scenery was present and correct: I ticked off the wide-screen prairie shot, the last minute gallop. Excitement was pointlessly provided by Matt Damon's pointless character (LeBouef - pronounced 'LeBeef', although this joke is not made in the film), riding off and then riding back again. Jeff Bridges spoke as if his mouth was truly full of grit, rendering most of his speeches as incomprehensible as if they had been pronounced in a lesser-known dialect of Tugalog. Every character prefaced most of his or her remarks with 'I do not know.' A lot of the action felt as if it had been tacked on as an afterthought, as when Mattie falls into a snakepit; although there was one genuinely gripping scene, when Mattie comes upon her Nemesis watering the horses (which, unfortunately, swiftly degenerates). Even the race for Mattie's life seemed mawkish; and a final scene, twenty-five years later, was peremptory.

That first scene was the mark of the film, for me. Everything was a little off kilter. Was it a comedy? Was it a thriller? Was it a coming of age story? Folks, I do not know. My only consolation was that nobody ever said, 'Mattie, it's you that's got True Grit.'

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