Thursday, March 31, 2011

True Grit (2010)

Gee.. That "The King's speech" must have been a heck of a film...
Just saying.
It is refreshing in these days of hyper-intertextulisation (my word, I made it up), 3D, CGI, poor script writing and general over all staleness; that we see a wonderful Character and script driven film like this one on our screens. But that is sort of what we expect from the Coens, actually nice old fashioned film craft. Now I'm actually a fan of the original 1969 film staring John Wayne, and I must say this new adaption is nowhere near as functionless as so many remakes have been over the past decade and a half. It's a fresh take on the 1968 serial by Charles Portis that follows the tale of Mattie Ross, a 14 year old girl of unusual drive and intelligence, as she seeks revenge on her father's killer. To achieve this end she hires a US Marshall, Rooster Cogburn, to assist her in tracking down and eventually killing the murderer; Tom Chaney.
The film on it's surface has the veneer of the "revisionist" western, the old west in a wild and dangerous place indeed filled with filth, Alcohol, poor healthcare and violence. Although once you go just below the surface you quickly find that the Coens are not giving us an Unforgiven or a The Quick or the Dead.
Instead they craft a very well rounded west, combining gritty realism with some old West cliches that have some basis in fact. LaBoeuf for example wears a tasseled jacket and spurs, something that could be terribly kitch if done poorly. It also does not do violence for violence's sake, and pretty much all the characters beyond Chaney have the quality indicated to in the title to some extent. Even the Villainous Lucky Ned Pepper is quite hospitable while he has Mattie captive, while he may be an outlaw, he and his gang are not Monsters by any extent. Ned sees no value in harming Maddie so he doesn't, but is happy to use her to get Cogburn off his back. Chaney on the other hand has just killed a man in cold blood, and is basically a coward so seems more scared of Maddie than she is of him.
That really is what goes to the heart of what makes a good film, fully realized characters who have a dimension beyond what is given in dialogue. Not only that but characters whose actions are internally consistent with what they do in the film, regardless of cliched scene play. That is where the Coen's habit of an ending that isn't really an ending pays dividends, it keeps the audience guessing and more importantly entertained. You don't know when the film is actually over till it is over, they shirk the usual Hollywood situation-complication-redemption formula.
Entertaining and thoughtful to the last.