Coen Brothers create a new classic

 

 

Jeff Bridges and Hailee Stienfeld in "True Grit." photo courtesy of filmofilia.com

 

 

The Coen Brothers have once again succeeded in mesmerizing us with another beautifully told story. It seems that every time we go to the theater to see a Coen Brothers film, we are partaking in an important part of cinematic history. “True Grit” is another film for the books.

Mattie Ross, a stubborn and intelligent 14-year-old with the wisdom of an old woman, has gone to Fort Smith, Ark., to avenge the death of her father, Frank Ross. She hires Marshall Rueben J. ‘Rooster’ Cogburn, who she has been told is the best man for the job – and the orneriest man wearing a badge – to go after Chaney, the killer, and bring him to justice. The two prepare for their pursuit along with a Texas Ranger named LaBouef who is also in pursuit of Chaney. After Cogburn “allows” Mattie to accompany this excursion, a deep-seated relationship, filled with respect and care, evolves between the two.

Based on the 1968 book by Charles Portis, “True Grit” was first adapted for the screen in 1969. Directed by Hollywood veteran Henry Hathaway and starring John Wayne as ‘Rooster’ Cogburn and Kim Darby as Mattie Ross, the film was an enormous box office success and has since taken on the status of a classic. It has continually been on most critics’ lists as one of the ten best westerns ever made.

“True Grit” is not the classic John Wayne western this time around. It is even better. The Coen Brothers have given it the characteristic Coen touch. It is insightful and visually beautiful. The cinematography and editing of this film are approached in a way that allows viewers to make their own interpretations and discoveries.  It has minimal movement and cutting, providing greater opportunity for much richer character development, along with some close and personal imagery. The pacing is a comfortable gallop, giving a feeling of ease with just the right touch of suspense. Viewing the Coen’s “True Grit” is much like reading a book, and, in fact, this updated version is much truer to Portis’ book. This is film as literature at its finest.

Jeff Bridges, who at times eerily resembles John Wayne, stars as Marshall Cogburn, and gives a captivating performance. Hailee Stienfeld, in her premiere role as Mattie Ross, practically steals the lead (she is, after all, the central figure in the book, though the two films tend to focus more on Cogburn). Matt Damon plays LaBouef wonderfully.

The remaking of “True Grit” is a great success for the Coens. Reviews have been excellent across the board. “True Grit” has even received a 95 percent approval rating on RottonTomatoes.com, a rare case of near-unanimous agreement among critics and audiences. Be sure to see “True Grit” sooner than later, its theatrical release is nearing its end. It is not often that we get to see a movie as well made as this.

 

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