#22 True Grit

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Joel & Ethan Coen
Produced by Joel Coen
Ethan Coen
Scott Rudin
Steven Spielberg
Screenplay by Joel Coen
Ethan Coen
Based on True Grit by
Charles Portis
Narrated by Elizabeth Marvel
Starring Jeff Bridges
Matt Damon
Josh Brolin
Hailee Steinfeld
Barry Pepper
Music by Carter Burwell
Cinematography Roger Deakins
Editing by Roderick Jaynes
Studio Scott Rudin Productions
Skydance Productions
Mike Zoss Productions

Okay.  I am breaking one of my rules–the “I would not change a frame in the film” criteria.  I would change several frames of True Grit–the last 10 minutes actually.  But I love 95 % of this beautifully shot film.  (Although the 5% of non-love is enough to knock it down the list.)

Let me begin with the love.  First and foremost is the writing–the Coen Brothers (I am a huge fan!) are masters at natural speech and it is a pleasure to listen to.  The dialogue is easy, gritty and very funny.  It helps that they rounded up fine actors to breathe life into the words. 

Jeff Bridges does a fantastic job playing Rooster Cogburn and NOT John Wayne (from the original 1964 version)–which is what propels this into beyond remake–it is instead a faithful retelling of the Charles Portis’ novel and you quickly stop any comparisons. 

Matt Damon is great as Texas Ranger La Boeuf.  The right amount of cocky, stubborn and loyal.  Rooster and La Boeuf have a strong chemistry and it is fun to watch their interplay. 

But, Hailee Steinfeld as Maddie Ross is the star!  Wow!  The Coens discovered a gem.  With only some TV and shorts in her résumé, it is truly amazing what she accomplishes.  Maddie is the cornerstone of the story.  This is her story–her journey to find justice and vengeance.  Hailee at a mere 14 years of age (at time of filming) infuses Maddie with confidence, determination and a wisdom beyond her years.  It is a powerful performance. 

You take all that–including some wonderful supporting characters–and then you frame it with Roger Deakins amazing eye for capturing the natural landscape and producing art–(Can this man film a horrible looking movie?  I think not.)–and BAM! 95%  awesome! 

Now for the non-love.  My 5% disappointment is directly related to my love part.  See, I was completely invested in the three central characters–I was totally engrossed in the scenery and was enjoying the tendered words–and when the film was coming to the end they all disappeared–literally–we do not see any of them for the last 10 minutes. 

What?  I was in shock.  I wanted to have some closure.  I wanted to say good-bye.  Why was I being vaulted 25 years in the future?  And if that was necessary–why wasn’t I given something of substance? 

I know, I know–they were being faithful to the novel–well, I felt cheated.  I wanted to see the 14-year-old Maddie Ross finish her adventure and by not being able to see her at the end I was utterly disappointed–enough to ruin the experience.   Too sad.  It should have been a top ten film. 

It is still worthy of the praise and recognition it has received, but for me–I will always stop watching right before the end and imagine my own satisfying finale.

Resources: Wikipedia