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Old 24th Dec 2010, 21:35   #1
bill
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Default True Grit (2010)

This is a placeholder. I'll have a review later on, but for now a very firm , with room for an upgrade.
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Old 24th Dec 2010, 22:04   #2
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Default Re: True Grit (2010)

I've been looking forward to this one all year, now I see it's not released here until February. Must be Oscar worthy then...?
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Old 24th Dec 2010, 23:50   #3
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Default Re: True Grit (2010)

Just watched the original as a pre-Xmas warmer upper. Looking forward to this one greatly.
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Old 25th Dec 2010, 0:15   #4
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Default Re: True Grit (2010)

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I've been looking forward to this one all year, now I see it's not released here until February. Must be Oscar worthy then...?
Well, I think so. Although I wouldn't place it at the top of my own list, I would still rank it right near the top. Of the films I've seen this year that are likely to garner nominations, I'd say True Grit is probably at least tied for the lead. The best movie I saw, Carlos, isn't going to get nominated for jack-squat (and is probably ineligible anyway, due to first airing, I believe, on French television).
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Old 25th Dec 2010, 1:51   #5
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Default Re: True Grit (2010)

I took the kids to the cinema today to see Tron: Legacy. Oh Dude, what have you done...?
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Old 26th Dec 2010, 12:56   #6
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Default Re: True Grit (2010)

Just recently -- like last night -- I realized that it's difficult for me to write about True Grit. I watched the 1969 film, directed by Henry Hathaway and starring John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn, a U. S. Marshal hired by a young girl named Mattie Ross (Kim Darby in that version) to hunt down the man who murdered her father, countless times when I was a kid. I've lived with the "Fill your hand, you son of a bitch!" climax as one of the central movie moments of my life. I have since then read Charles Portis's books, and other Portis books, and become a member of the Portis Cult that I like to think is sweeping the globe. Now that my favorite living filmmakers, the Coen brothers, have adapted Portis's book, or remade Hathaway's film, depending who you ask, I find myself feeling possibly too familiar with the story, or maybe content to simply be an audience member as my favorite filmmakers unspool a new version of one of my favorite stories. I don't know what it is, but I wonder what I could possibly have to say. Thank Christ I'm not being paid for this.
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Still, though, I feel compelled to write about the film a little, because I'm seeing some curious reactions. First thing's first: I loved it. I thought it was a beautifully made film, which is something that goes without saying regarding the Coens at this point. It's also exceptionally well-cast. A few members of that cast have some rather large shoes to fill, but while Matt Damon is asked only to replace Glenn Campbell from the Hathaway film he's still terrific as LeBoeuf, the vain Texas Ranger pursuing Tom Chaney, the man who killed Mattie's father, for a separate crime. It's the kind of role Damon was either born for, or has played some version of so often at this point that he can do it in his sleep. I'm not sure which, but it could be both. Either way, he's terrific. As are Josh Brolin as Chaney -- employing a slightly odd cadence to his speech, and apparently wearing some dental thing that renders Chaney somewhat less evolved than those around him, both choices achieving the desired effect -- and Barry Pepper, nearly unrecognizable as the coincidentally named Lucky Ned Pepper, onto whose gang Chaney has latched himself since fleeing Frank Ross's murder. In the Hathaway film, Ned Pepper was played by Robert Duvall as a fairly cool customer, or so I remember it, while Barry Pepper plays him as a kind of manic professional, one who recognizes the ability to exude menace a part of his job.
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After that, we need only concern ourselves here with Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld, who play Rooster Cogburn and Mattie Ross (respectively, of course), which in turn will take us into Coen vs. Hathaway and both vs. Portis, and who changed what and why and to what purpose. One thing I've heard, a sort of complaint, about this new version of True Grit is that it's nothing but a "straight" Western, that it isn't very much like a Coen brothers film. Taking the second part first, I should point out that another regular feature of reviews of True Grit so far is a mention of the film's dialogue, and how much of it has been pulled straight from Portis's novel. Rarely mentioned is that a big part of what makes a Coen brothers film a Coen brothers film is their way with language -- from Blood Simple on, their characters have talked with some level of literary knowingness, or raw, precise brutality, or both at once. They have a hell of an ear, those guys, or a pair of them, and it's unusual to me that anyone would bother to point out that the dialogue in True Grit is largely the work of Portis and not think to also mention that his words are pretty much the perfect marriage with the Coens' sensibility. Several times already they've seemed to make films that are simply adaptation of Portis novels that Portis never wrote. The very act of adapting Portis is already a Coenesque thing to do.
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I guess it's also a Hathawayesque thing to do, because, since this is the way of things, a lot of people have used the Coens' excellent True Grit as a stick to beat Hathaway's True Grit, even though, having refreshed my memory of that earlier film by rewatching crucial scenes, it turns out back in '69 they used a pretty healthy pantload of Portis's language their own selfs. The big difference between the films in this regard is that Hathaway doesn't seem to care especially if you notice how great these lines are or not -- in other words, he doesn't make a big deal of it, doesn't foreground it, kind of tosses it away. This may be, or at least sound, preferable to you, but the Coens care about this language very deeply, and foreground it in the way they foreground their own language: by having the actors play their roles as men and women who would actually speak this way. I happen to think Kim Darby is quite good in Hathaway's film, but if one of the stated motives of the Coens to remake that film is to hew more closely to Portis's book, it's worth noting that in this sense Darby plays Mattie as altogether too eager and girlish. Hattie Steinfeld, on the other hand, makes her arrogant, but -- and this is key -- shows her arrogance to be well-earned. She's very smart, smarter than anybody else she meets throughout the story. She knows it, and she proves it again and again. She's the kind of 14-year-old who really would talk like this:
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"I have left off crying, and giggling as well. Now make up your mind. I don't care anything for all this talk. You told me what your price for the job was and I have come up with it. Here is the money. I aim to get Tom Chaney and if you are not game I will find somebody who is game. All I have heard out of you so far is talk. I know you can drink whiskey and I have seen you kill a gray rat. All the rest has been talk. They told me you had grit and that is why I came to you. I am not paying for talk. I can get all the talk I need and more at the Monarch boardinghouse."
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So, too, does John Wayne's inarguably iconic (and Oscar-winning) performance as Rooster Cogburn differ from Jeff Bridges' in the Coens' film. Wayne plays Cogburn as a fairly jolly sort, which is not quite Portis. Wayne's Cogburn is a guy who likes to drink, a lot, but is pretty much a delightful fellow to be around, whatever the circumstances. Bridges plays the role very broad, but his Cogburn is also more dissolute and worn out. Bridges's Cogburn is a guy you have to watch.
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What's really curious about these two films are the changes they make to Portis. Neither film is entirely slavish. The Hathaway film begins with a scene between Mattie and her father before he's murdered, while the book, and the Coens' film, begins after the death. A more puzzling change made for the Hathaway film has to do with aspects of the film that would count as spoilers -- Hathaway's version may be 41-years-old, but we're talking about differences here -- but basically in 1969 they hardened one aspect of the film, darkened it up, so that they might be free to soften up another, possibly more objectionable (commercially speaking) aspect of Portis's book. I'm assuming certain things here, but it seems fair enough. I do believe that people who are hardcore fans of the John Wayne film and who don't know Portis's book will be up in arms over the Coens' film, believing their more faithful film has actually chickened out, and Hollywooded that shit up. They didn't, though. The Coens made only minor changes -- the bearskin trader, the hanging man, LeBoeuf's brief separation from Mattie and Rooster are all their creations (okay, I didn't reread the whole book yesterday, but watching their film, those bits seemed original to them, and some reasonably intensive browsing and skimming through the novel seemed to confirm that. Please correct me if I'm wrong).
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The real difference between the two films is tone, and this is where those who claim this new True Grit is simply an ordinary Western confuse me. If they feel that way, I can only assume that's because they're familiar with the story already and are letting that get in the way of the Coens' truly original approach to this genre, or at least truly particular take. In his review of the Coen brothers' film, Glenn Kenny said: "[T]he Coens' True Grit is not just a different film than the more classical Henry Hathaway-directed one; it's a different idea of a film than that one." I believe that's at the heart of things here. All you need to compare is, as I say, the tone. Hathaway is making a unique Western in a fairly ordinary way, at least behind the camera. In the remake, there's a genuine sense of these events -- the pursuit of Chaney by Mattie, Rooster, and LeBoeuf -- having happened in the past, which is importan, and that something will follow after the ending we know from Hathaway's film (itself different in a couple of important ways). And there's a melancholy to it all because of that, and hidden inside of that, which is entirely absent from the original film. Just take the night-time ride of Rooster and Mattie that is the emotional climax of both films: in Hathaway, it's filmed as a basic race against time, but with the Coens it's solemn, fierce, desperate, even impressionistic, and deeply moving.
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Then there's what comes after that, and the little twitch in your memory when you meet one character and remember the reference to Cogburn's history with Quantrill during the Civil War, and the Coens' film comes out just plain richer than Hathaway's. But that's probably because Portis is richer. Either way, so what? Wayne's Rooster is a performance for the ages -- I think he's great in the role, and I don't care what the revisionists say -- and the rest of the film is plenty brisk and entertaining and well-made. And so we have two good film versions of a masterful book, plus we have the book. I'm looking for a reason to complain here, but I'm not finding one.

And since I spent so much time talking about it, the 1969 version gets .
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Old 31st Dec 2010, 2:44   #7
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Default Re: True Grit (2010)

This is the best film I've seen this year (which isn't saying too much since I rarely get to the movies, but, as the Coens are also my favorite living filmmakers, I managed to get to it, which is saying something).

One thing that blew me away: Hailee Steinfeld was only 13 when she filmed the 14 year-old Mattie Ross. What an amazing performance! Sometimes when young people have an Oscar-worthy performance, it turns out they just played themselves and happened to be well cast. But Steinfeld certainly wasn't just playing herself, yet she came across as naturally as the seasoned actors in the film. She could deliver those incredibly literate and difficult passages (like the one above) and it was wonderful to see.
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Old 2nd Jan 2011, 20:24   #8
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Default Re: True Grit (2010)

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The best movie I saw, Carlos, isn't going to get nominated for jack-squat (and is probably ineligible anyway, due to first airing, I believe, on French television).
bill, did you see the 5½ hour or the 140 minute version of Carlos?

And yes, the premiere in France on Canal+ does mean Carlos will be ineligible for the Academy Awards. The same happened with The Last Seduction (1994), which aired on HBO before it was released to cinemas. Linda Fiorentino's performance was thought worthy of a possible Oscar nomination, but she was disqualified because of that debut on HBO.

Anyway it looks like, Carlos and True Grit are definitely two to see this year.
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Old 2nd Jan 2011, 21:05   #9
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Default Re: True Grit (2010)

Mookse - I completely agree, Steinfeld was amazing. She played the role perfectly.

Elwood - The 5.5 hour version. I can't imagine how Carlos could possibly play at 140 minutes (one guy I know who saw that version said it was confusing, and I can just imagine). Five and a half hour long films are not generally advisable, but in this case the film's length is entirely justified, and I would never want to see it so thoroughly gutted.
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Old 21st Feb 2011, 9:05   #10
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Default Re: True Grit (2010)

bill, I denied myself the pleasure of reading your fine review above until I had seen the film. And now that I have, pretty much everything you say chimes with me.

How many times have I watched an adaptation thinking 'Oh yes, and xyz is coming up next, wonder what they'll do with that...' but with the Coens' True Grit, I was just as wrapped up in the film as I was in the book.

To me, Matt Damon was a revelation in his pitch-perfect performance. bill, what are these roles whereof you speak that he can perform in his sleep? Admittedly I have not particularly sought out many Matt Damon films, but I have never been so impressed with him before.

The genuinely funny lines from the novel are of course relished in the Coens' film. Actually one of the things I always loved about John Wayne was his ability to delivery a funny line straight (if you see what I mean). Jeff Bridges is careful not to deliver those funny lines as though he is playing them for laughs, and gives us a Cogburn who is grubbier and... I don't know, perhaps baser in a way, but none the less likeable for that.

from me.
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