- 11 Feb 11
Coen Brothers Eschew Usual Quirks For A Classic Western
The Coen Brothers’ last foray into the world of the Western was an adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s No Country For Old Men, a magnificent, quirk-filled examination of morality. In comparison, the straightforward, revenge-glorifying Western classicism of Charles Portis’ 1968 novel could have made for an underwhelming and tame B-movie, but the impeccable screenplay, powerhouse performances and unrivalled production values of True Grit make it a truly stunning feature.
Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) is a strong-willed 14-year-old who hires Deputy US Marshall Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to track down her father’s killer Tom Chaney, despite Rooster’s unorthodox, alcohol-fuelled mannerisms. Also searching for Chaney is the straight-laced Texas Ranger LaBouef (Matt Damon), who has been pursuing the killer for months following a murder in Texas. The three unlikely travel companions embark on an epic journey across largely uninhabited Choctaw terrain, with inevitable separations and shoot-outs happening along the way.
And that’s it. The A-B-C storyline would be a trim one for any film, and held up against the Coens’ wonderfully odd and personally nuanced original work, True Grit’s simplicity marks a dramatic change for the directors. But their trademark attention to detail never falters. The desolate, arid landscapes are beautifully shot in sepia tones, and though the three leads’ journey moves at a very leisurely pace, the eye-catching scenery and Shakespearean quality of the gorgeously convoluted script is constantly gripping.
So too are the performances, with Steinfeld proving herself the equal of her seasoned co-stars. Mattie’s whiplash verbosity and razor-sharp wit could have been irritatingly precocious, but Steinfeld portrays a subtle vulnerability so her tics seem like the believable bravado of a scared girl trying to play tough. Bridges’ throaty growl and deadpan delivery of Cogburn’s ripe one-liners is constantly hilarious (though yet again he sometimes seems to be unwittingly invoking The Dude), while Damon’s subdued turn as the gruff, paunchy Ranger demonstrates his graceful slide into more mature roles.
The sharp humour of the film and flashes of eccentricity, such as a henchman who only communicates using animal noises, show the Coens’ unique personality, but as a whole True Grit is beautifully, simply classic.