True Grit (2010)

(In theaters, December 2010) The Coen Brothers never do anything in a straightforward fashion, and so it is that if their homage to the classic True Grit may be as dirty and unforgiving as we imagine the West to have been, it’s also surprisingly entertaining and even, yes, amusing.  The repartee between rivals Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon is one of the film’s finest points, and the film often acknowledges the absurdity of its own premise.  But for all of its tension-defusing laughs, the film isn’t a comedy: the drama plays without ironic distancing, the characters aren’t completely softened for Hollywood effect, and the finale doesn’t pull any stops in punishing characters for going so deep in the wild.  While Bridges is magnificent as the one-eyed marshal “Rooster” that becomes the film’s true hero, it’s Hailee Steinfeld who makes the strongest impression as the 14-year-old heroine of the film capable of mouthing the Coens’ typically dense dialogue.  This leads us to the film’s main weakness in theaters: The often thick accents duelling on-screen.  Home-video viewers will have the advantage of captions: movie theatre viewers will have to tough it out on their own.  At a time where filmed Westerns are most often anachronistic genre recreations, it’s a bit surprising to find True Grit to be such a true-pedigree Western, spiced but not overwhelmed by comedy.  It’s an old-fashioned film worth watching and savouring.

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