Like millions of other Americans across this country I participated in the cultural celebration of the Christmas Day matinee and saw the big screen version of the Coen brothers’ new film, True Grit. I waited an entire day before sitting down to write about the magical experience. It’s been at least 15 years since I went to the movies.
The screenplay deserves an Oscar award. The dialogue and plot are derived wholly from Charles Portis’ novel by the same title. The screenwriter for the original film got one, but this is so much better written and directed, in my humble opinion. Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Josh Brolin play versions of themselves but it’s the young debutante who walks away with the awards for acting. She is the genuine article.
Bridges (can you hear my heart pitter patter?) grows more adorable as he gets older and more crochety and scruffy. And his heroism in the end wins the lonesome heart of a one armed woman. In this film Bridges works brilliantly under the Coen brothers’ direction and really stretches as an actor, but he’s still a movie star even though he’s of a different ilk than John Wayne.
Matt Damon ducktaped his tongue to make his speech more authentic in the dialogue after his character LeBoef bit his tongue off in the midst of a gun battle being dragged by a horse. And Josh Brolin really stretches his repertoire in this role.
But the Coen brothers used these pretty boy movie stars to pull in their real audience: the ones who fall in love with the true grit of Miss Mattie Ross, age 14, who avenges the death of her father. Smart casting in an unknown, the audience is allowed to completely identify with the protagonist of the story. The movie keeps the focus on Mattie and her mission.
Having recently screened the original movie in full I can say the Coen brothers stayed much closer to the book and it is a richer film for it.
The audio/score for this film will not win any awards. The visual aesthetic is breathtaking and historically authentic and worthy of the Academy’s nomination.
The New York Times reviewed this film as appropriate even for Grandma. Maybe so but if Grandma wanted to bring the grandchildren I would have reservations. There are two scenes near the end of the film which I found hard to watch. Both are key to the resolution of the plot and are done in good taste, but not for sensitive eyes. None of the gratuitious mature material the Coen brothers have included in previous films appears here. They have made an American classic.