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Arts and Entertainment

Movie Review: 'True Grit'

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Jeff Bridges stars in "True Grit" which opens nationwide today

Jeff Bridges stars in "True Grit" which opens nationwide today
How cool is it that within the same week we can see Jeff Bridges as a high-tech Zen master living inside a computer-generated world as well as a barely literate, alcoholic, one-eyed U.S. Marshall prowling post-Civil War Indian Territory? Bridges is experiencing a bit of a Renaissance after scoring Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild, and Academy Awards for his role as Bad Blake in last year's Crazy Heart and True Grit is an extension of this era that is sure to nab him several more laurels in the upcoming awards season.What's important in looking at the 2010 version of True Grit, is to look at it not as a remake of the 1969 film but a wholly new version of the 1968 novel by Charles Portis. While True Grit (1969) is an enjoyable Western it was a John Wayne Western, and just like any other movie starring the Duke, it could not escape his presence [FYI today TCM is hosting a John Wayne Westerns marathon - all day, including True Grit]. Bridges, although a powerful force on the screen, immerses himself in the role of Reuben J. "Rooster" Cogburn, sublimating his persona for the good of the film. He presents us with a garrulous and occasionally incomprehensible true Westerner - resourceful, dedicated, and with an intractable character.

The funny thing though, is that while "true grit" might be an accurate description of Bridges' character, this story isn't the story of Rooster Cogburn. Rather, it's the story of Mattie Ross, the highly intelligent daughter of of a murder victim who hires Cogburn to go after the killer. Played by Hailee Steinfeld, it is Mattie who is the most unfiltered source of true grit in the film [Steinfeld will be on "Lopez Tonight" tonight at 12am]. Motivated by a steely desire for revenge, Mattie fearlessly outwits the denizens of the frontier town where her father was murdered in order to secure money for her widowed mother as well as the power of the law to track down the murderer, Tom Chaney. Steinfeld, who just turned 14 eleven days ago, is a revelation as the 14 year-old Mattie, delivering every line with the humor and gravity that is the narrative voice of both the book and the film - but especially the humor!

Rounding out the group of fugitive-hunters is a Texas Ranger by the name of La Boeuf, an almost unrecognizable Matt Damon. Damon significantly adds to the humor with his self-aggrandizing Texas Ranger and of the two men, he perhaps has the better chance of matching wits with the headstrong Mattie. While they might never be a "merry" band of trackers, they develop a kind of respect and camaraderie that will be tested as they hunt down Tom Chaney, an uncivilized beast-man portrayed by Josh Brolin.

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Joel and Ethan Coen co-wrote the screenplay, co-produced and co-directed True Grit but it is probably the least "Coen-like" Coen Brothers film we've seen. They stick to the genre and avoid stylistic embellishments either in cinematography or dialogue. For a Western, we were also pleased that the movie didn't overly dwell on the natural landscapes, keeping the camera to closeups and mid-distance shots with few exceptions, as this is a film about a tight group of characters and not the environment in which they operate. It is only near the very end of the film that we see the film shot a bit more lyrically but this occurs after a significant event that we won't spoil for you in this review.

There are many reasons why not everything written in a novel should be brought into the film adaptation of it and the Coen Brothers have perhaps made this mistake in the final 5 minutes of the film. The book is told from the perspective of a much older Mattie Ross and in staying true to the book the Coen brothers introduce her and a myriad of other characters in the final minutes of the film - this was distracting and unnecessary and it broke the focus on our intimate group. For us, the film ended before seeing the older Mattie Ross and that's the way we'd like to remember it. To be sure these last few minutes did not ruin this great movie or overshadow the exceptional performances of the core cast of Hailee Steinfeld, Jeff Bridges, and Matt Damon. True Grit is a great achievement that transcends the genre, making it a must-watch for this holiday season.