Coens lack grit

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Film: True Grit

Directed by: Joel and Ethan Coen

Starring: Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Haillee Steinfield and Josh Brolin.

The term re-imagining is an expression that has certainly been overused in recent times. Usually, it’s a roundabout way of directors, producers or actors to describe their latest work as more than just a remake and to shake any preconceptions about the nature of remakes not living up to the original. However recent re-imaginings have spectacularly failed to align with the good intentions of the phrase with such chronic remakes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Clash Of Titans rethinking the original beloved films as being charmless, witless and most of all boring. True Grit is not a remake of the original film as such but a self proclaimed re-imagining of the source material – the 1968 novel by Charles Portis – by the Coen Brothers.

Mattie Ross’s father has been murdered by one of his own men, Tom Chaney, who is now an outlaw on the run. 14 year old Mattie swears to act her revenge and kill Chaney by her own hand and attempts to hire the help of Rooster Cogburn, a Deputy U.S Marshall, who reluctantly agrees to assist her. Along with the help of Texas Ranger La Boeuf, she and Cogburn set out on tracking down the killer of her father.

As Rooster Cogburn, a role which earned John Wayne an Oscar in the 1969 version of the film, Jeff Bridges grumbles and mumbles his way through his performance, with 50 percent of his lines barely comprehensible. It’s a straight laced and hard edged take on the character which plays off well with Matt Damon who reliably drops by as the likable and empathetic Le Boeuf. Haillee Steinfield’s much lauded portrayal of the independent and strong willed Mattie Ross is in fact an incredibly constructed and acted performance straight out of a weekend teenage drama school. It is such an unnaturalistic portrayal that it seems lost at sea among the effortless talents of Damon and Bridges. Mattie is presented as being very mature for her age – this shown as either her haggling the price of horses or rolling cigarettes for Bridges – yet as her search for Chaney gets deeper it is clear that the world she thought she had tamed is in reality extremely dangerous. Yet the most intriguing character of Tom Chaney is given excruciatingly little screen time as Josh Brolin is fantastically hopeless and without redemption in the little space he is given as the desperate murderer.

The film works well as a by-the-numbers steady western tale of revenge, but perhaps what is most disappointing about True Grit is how pedestrian of an outing it is for the Coens. The brothers work best when working with their own original ideas and it shows as the film lacks any of the true strangeness or brooding nature of their previous work . Whilst their projects usually consist of three different breeds of film – crime thrillers such as Miller’s Crossing and No Country For Old Men, madcap screwball comedies like Raising Arizona and Burn After Reading and blackly comedic dramas such as Barton Fink and A Serious Man. True Grit appears as none of these and is a disappointingly generic motion picture for their tastes. Even regular collaborator Roger Deakin’s usually vibrant cinematography seems washed out and saturated giving a very pale colour palette that fails to leave a memorably visual picture upon the audience. True Grit marks that after the career peak of A Serious Man, the Coen Brothers should get back to doing what they do best.

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