film review: True Grit (2010)

14 Comments

True Grit poster, hailee steinfeld, jeff bridgesThis is the first year that I’ve ever seen all the Best Picture nominees before the Oscar ceremony and it’s only occured to me now that I probably should have done reviews for all of them BEFORE they were awarded. I’m really not great at putting 2 and 2 together.

Anyway, this means that I have like 8 reviews to write before you all forget that there was an awards season at all… so I’d better get to it. Oh, in case you’re wondering, I had previously written reviews for The Social Network (which I liked) and The Kids are All Right (which I did not).

I should say from the outset, I’m not a big fan of westerns. So basically I’m kind of going against my reviewing ethos in doing a review of this one. If you are a fan you should probably look away now. Not because I’m going to slate True Grit, just because well… I don’t know what I’m talking about really. Or more accurately, I have no context for the review. I think the only westerns I’ve seen are The Searchers and High Plains Drifter. Sooo… the critique you’ll be getting from me today is fairly unversed.

Here we go… I enjoyed True Grit, it was fun, it was smart, it looked great, it was mostly engaging. But to be honest, I had a bit of a problem with it in the sense that I’m probably not going to think about it again. Except when looking back at Coen brothers films… and I’m fairly ambivalent on Coen brothers films really. I (mostly) liked No Country for Old Men and I thought A Serious Man really deserved more viewers than it got, but the only film of theirs that I’ve really liked a lot was O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and that had a lot to do with the music. What a soundtrack.

It annoys me sometimes, that this is what it’s like. In that this is what I’m like. There are a lot of movies out there like True Grit… That is, there are a lot of movies that are great stories – stories that are told safely and competently by good directors – that I just can’t get into. I like them, I think they’re pretty good films. But they just never blow me away, I just can’t make myself care about them. I want more damnit.

Ok, I think the problem for me was that I never connected with the characters. Hailee Steinfeld’s* character for example. Yeah, you know, she’s a plucky precocious kid. She knows stuff, her dealings with adults are entertaining, but… so what? I don’t actually know anything about her. I can guess what her full formed persona is like but, perhaps you can show me more of who she is? I don’t mean necessarily some montage of her formative years showing her becoming who she is but… I don’t know. All I got through this whole quest that herself and Jeff Bridges went on was that she’s determined. That’s nice. But… surely there was something else there?

And obviously, I couldn’t help but compare the characters creation to Jennifer Lawrence’s character in Winter’s Bone. In my opinion Winter’s Bone was far more successful at creating the characters and atmosphere with a (somewhat) similar premise. I knew who that girl was, through the environment around her, through the way she was to her family, through the look on her face – she was real. Mattie Ross was a sketch compared to Lawrence’s Ree.

I would almost go as far as to say that True Grit was on the one hand too light while on the other not light enough. For me, there were flashes of greatness… but they were only flashes. I do remember near the end there was a line that really struck me (by the other female character in the film) and I wish I could remember it but it was the only time I felt a touch of heart in the proceedings.

Perhaps I’m being harsh. It was still a good film. Even if I thought Jeff Bridges played the only real character in it. It was funny, it kept me entertained, it was a really good script – I’ll give it that. I just thought it lacked… ah will I say it? Ah yeah, go on… I’m not sure it had true grit.

7/10

* who, by the way, looked adorable at the Oscars, one of the best dresses

14 Comments

  1. comment-avatar
    MunirMarch 2, 2011 - 8:46 pm

    You review films, review one in a genre you don’t like – and I accept that disclaimer, I really do – but neither of the two films you HAVE seen with a relevant context is The Good, The Bad and The Ugly?

    You need to remedy that, stat! Ask your friends. Somebody must have a copy you can borrow!

  2. comment-avatar
    MunirMarch 2, 2011 - 8:57 pm

    Oh, I should add The Quick and The Dead to that list. A Western purist is likely to turn up their nose at it for it’s near-MTV-like brainlessness but it is what is…which is to say it’s a lot of fun to watch. Pure popcorn-munching turn-off-brain fun. Which I know you like. 🙂

    Great list of actors too. Gene Hackman flawless as always, such a great bad guy. Leo DiCaprio still playing a teenager. Russell Crowe while he was still kind of an unknown B-lister. An excellent lead by Sharon Stone before her decline.

  3. comment-avatar
    Nicola-tMarch 2, 2011 - 10:03 pm

    Hehe, thanks Munir, I must ask around for it. It’s one I do want to see some day. There was a video on youtube for My Body is a Cage by Arcade Fire that I always listen to but I’ve actually never watched, just because it apparently could spoil the end of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

    The Quick and the Dead I don’t really know much about but I do like Gene Hackman so will try and find that too.

    Coincidentally I saw another western today, Rango, and that was a western I could get on board with – it was really quite odd!

  4. comment-avatar
    MunirMarch 3, 2011 - 5:52 am

    Rango? A Western? Really?

    I thought it was just another Johnny Depp vehicle but in Ice-Age land.

    I’ll still watch it though….it looked pretty funny from the trailer.

  5. comment-avatar
    Nicola-tMarch 3, 2011 - 11:17 pm

    Yeah, it’s a western! It’s pure odd. I’m not sure I’d call it hilarious but it’s fairly funny. Mostly it’s pretty weird. But in a fun way.

  6. comment-avatar
    Yevgeny NadsonyachinMarch 3, 2011 - 11:49 pm

    See, there is a kind of cultural context that goes way beyond whether one has seen many westerns or not. Hailee Steinfeld’s character is in many ways an American archetype that symbolizes the frontier spirit of self-reliance with more than a hint of the protestantism that made the first and all succeeding conquests of the continent possible, the last of which was the taming of the west. Lebowski’s character is not as uptight but is just a rugged and self-reliant – the character that allowed for the taming of a continent and the foundation of a great cvilization.

    If you read closely into the history of the USA, you will see why the characters in this movie has so much resonance. The most moving thing about it is the end, the scene many years on – the age when true grit was no longer needed and when so many of the great characters of the West ended their days as showmen for a lost era, something that was sadly quite literally true for people like Buffalo Bill Cody. This movie made me long for a less meterosexual time.

  7. comment-avatar
    Nicola-tMarch 4, 2011 - 12:16 am

    Hmm… Yevgeny, I’ll take the comment tho I don’t know if that was the intention of the film. I’ll have to do more digging on it.

    I don’t know if I’m sold on it, am I then to look at their journey and their interactions on it as a metaphor? And if so what was I meant to learn? Or is it more that these are always the characters in westerns, this is always the context to look at them in?

    In any case, while there may be a cultural context beyond just having seen a lot of westerns, I can’t help but think that, possibly, seeing more of them would help with grasping it. 😉

    I did like what the film was saying in the end, with the circus and with the lady… I wish I could find that last line (I think it was the last line) Does anyone have it?

  8. comment-avatar
    Yevgeny NadsonyachinMarch 4, 2011 - 1:05 am

    The intention of the film was possibly to pay tribute to the original and the intention of the original was probably to pay tribute to the old west and their virtues. In my opinion, they do a great job because they keep all the good stuff from the original and get rid of some of the earlier versions more meandering parts, the parts that some might be tempted to fast-forward through.
    To be honest, I would be shocked if you really liked this movie, because it is lacking in the kind of ironic distance that you appreciate, the violence is not all that stylish, and it reaches back to a genre and worldview that is very difficult to present in 2010/2011.
    Wesrterns are simple enough. Just watch a few Sergio Leone or Sam Peckinpah movies. There is no great mystery to any of them, except that being a no bullshit hardass with a sense of individualism and honor is really cool. The heroes are self-reliant people who try to do what is right and the movies are always filled with a strong moral element.
    I don’t think there is an awful lot that is metaphorical about the movie, except in so far as it refers to a specific epoch. I would like to talk about the ending but I am not so sure how I can do this in any detail here without ruining it for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet.

  9. comment-avatar
    Yevgeny NadsonyachinMarch 4, 2011 - 1:12 am

    actually….the best western i ever saw was an eastern- the seven samurai

  10. comment-avatar
    MunirMarch 4, 2011 - 7:09 am

    You’re going to have to forgive me Yevgeny because calling Seven Samurai a “Western” made me cringe. It inspired many films – just about any film that has the formula of a group of misfits, the synergy of their individual stories, working against a common foe, human or otherwise.

    Please don’t cheapen the original by calling it a Western retroactively. I mean, how disgusted would you be if I called one of Kurosawa’s great works, the “original Armageddon”.

    That said, that’s another one for your to-watch list. The direct Hollywood-isation of Kurosawa’s film called The Magnificent Seven.

    It’s like a Who’s Who of the Manliest Men in Hollywood at the time: Yul Brynner (pure awesome), Charles Bronson, Steve McQueen (manliest of the manly), Robert Vaughn, James Coburn….just…damn. It’s a classic.

  11. comment-avatar
    MunirMarch 4, 2011 - 7:42 am

    Gawdayyum….made the pseudo-mistake of clicking through to Yul Brynner’s bio on IMDB. That man was amazing!

    Gonna have to find me a copy of his biography.

  12. comment-avatar
    Yevgeny NadsonyachinMarch 4, 2011 - 11:40 am

    Munir, it is not obviously a western, but it in no way cheapens the movie to compare it to one. It does after all have the key element of many westerns- the institutions of justice have broken down and people in a remote and backward frontier need protection. To cheapen Kurasawa’s work, I would have to compare it to something bad, which I definitely didn’t.

  13. comment-avatar
    MunirMarch 5, 2011 - 7:34 am

    @Yevgeny: Fair point.

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