jeudi 30 décembre 2010

The Coen Brothers nail it with True Grit



As we left the movie theater the other night after seeing the Coen Brothers' rendition of True Grit (I am not going to call it a remake, so there), I was feeling the happy buzz one gets when one has no particular expectations and they are wildly surpassed. It isn't that I expected the Coen Brothers to do a bad job, they never do, or that I was worried their True Grit would not be as good as the first movie version, the John Wayne vehicle made in 1969. In fact, I never much liked the 1969 movie, perhaps because I never much liked John Wayne. It seemed he was always in the boring movies that played at the Burien Theater, the ones that dominated the Saturday matinée line-up. You know, like The Sands of Iwo Jima. I never liked his voice much or his looks. Somewhere, I once saw a photo of him wearing short shorts. I think it had to do with rumors about his sexual orientation. I have been unable to locate the photo since, but I found a website forum devoted to a discussion of his manhood in which a poster refers to this famous photo. He couldn't relocate it either.
The forum is hilarious, by the way. Lots of trite statements such as "He was a man's man" on one side and "Of course he was gay" on the other.
I didn't hate the first attempt to bring True Grit to the screen, and it was Wayne's best role, in my opinion. He played a bit against type and he was getting old. But Kim Darby as Mattie Ross just did not work. For one thing, she was too old at 21 to play a 14-year old. And Mattie Ross's wisdom beyond her youth is central to the story. She has true grit and she eventually brings it out in the other two.
So back to the present. We were leaving the movie theater and Walt said, with disappointment, "that was good but it wasn't so much about Rooster Cogburn." He said this just as I was thinking, with elation, "that was good because it wasn't about Rooster Cogburn." What makes the Coen Brothers' rendition so winning is that they have stayed truer to the story and made it about Mattie, told from her point of view. And after looking at more than 15,000 aspiring Mattie Rosses, they cast Hailee Steinfeld in the role. She is 14. And she gives a commanding performance. Her partners, Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon, are outstanding as well. And to their credit, they treat her as an equal acting partner and not a child. It shows through in the resulting film.
Whenever a Coen Brothers movie comes out, people debate over whether it is a "major" or a "minor" Coen Brothers. I don't get involved too much in these debates. I have liked almost everything they have done, even Intolerable Cruelty. No matter what story they are telling, they know how to write dialogue and shape plot and they film beautifully. Their movies are beautiful to look at. In addition, the casting for the minor roles is always perfect, with some great faces and voices. The opening scene of True Grit is beautiful to look at. Just the camera pointed at a boarding house in the dark, with the voiceover of the mature Mattie Ross. It isn't until the end that the eye is drawn to a dead body lying on the ground below the steps. It's a small thing, but a beautiful thing. And the scene near the end, where Rooster carries the injured Mattie to safety on the back of her horse Blackie, is almost like an animated fairy tale. The night, the prairie, the little house in the woods. Beautiful.
It's major Coen Brothers.