Having penned a negative review last week – sorry, Rango fans – I found myself yearning to write about a movie I actually liked.
Consequently, I found myself searching the San Marcos showings for something with promise, where I stumbled upon another little Western by the name of True Grit.
Set in the 19th-century frontiers of Arkansas, True Grit is the story of 14-year-old Mattie Ross and her quest for justice following the murder of her father by outlaw Tom Chaney. Along the way, she must enlist the help of ruthless and rugged U.S. Marshall Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogburn and super-Texan Texas Ranger LaBoeuf, pronounced “La Beef,” naturally.
Though beautifully staged and cunningly scripted, the Coens’ smartest move in crafting a fine piece of entertainment might’ve been their casting choices.
Newcomer Hailee Steinfeld plays Mattie Ross with dramatic skill contemptible of actors with twice her age and experience – and she earned an Oscar nomination to prove it. Mattie comes to life with steely-eyed determination, fierce negotiation skills and a speech so biting and mature that were you to close your eyes, you might think she’s a grown woman. Her unyielding eagerness for revenge makes it evident that her bad side is possibly the worst place you could find yourself.
After such an impressive start, I’ll bet I’m not the only one eager to see what Steinfeld brings to the table next.
Following last year’s Best Actor win for his turn as a washed-up Country music singer in Crazy Heart, Jeff Bridges clearly knows how to make functional drunkenness entertaining.
As Marshall Cogburn, Bridges’ one-eyed scowls and drunken one-liners are without fault – as noted by the Academy voters, who granted him another chance at the Oscar (though he lost to Colin Firth for The King’s Speech). With all his quirks, however, Rooster is chock-full of the street smarts – trail smarts? – Mattie needs to successfully find Chaney and bring him down.
Maintaining a heavy hand in the film’s surprising hilarity is Matt Damon’s LaBoeuf, who’s hunting Chaney for murdering a Senator in Texas. LaBoeuf is all seriousness, which beefs up the laughs he incurs immeasurably. Damon brings a charm to the proud Texas Ranger that endears him to the viewer just for his helping hand in Mattie’s quest, but also as a person.
Josh Brolin and Barry Pepper, as Chaney and “Lucky” Ned Pepper, respectively, don’t physically appear on screen often, but their performances nonetheless match the hype they garner by the other characters’ frequent lip service.
Character interaction was on point. The battles of tit-for-tat stubbornness between Mattie and Rooster make for hilarious interludes to the violence of the Wild West, and with LaBoeuf, they manage to make gritty country-folk look almost charming. The mismatched trio plays off each other’s character flaws with prowess fit for one of the funniest plots of death and revenge you’ve ever seen.
It’s unwavering, deadpan humor at its finest.
Wondering where the “grit” is – or what it even means, for that matter? Identifying its sources, and consequently its identity, is just another part of the intrigue that elevates the plot from mundane to magical.
I’ll make no comparison to the 1969 John Wayne film, nor the 1968 Charles Portis novel that inspired both films, as I’ve not had the opportunity to indulge in either. However, my admiration of this remake does peak significant interest in having a “best of” battle of sorts.
So if you find yourself in need of a relief from the “blah” box office of the $10 variety, make your way to Showplace Movie Theater on North LBJ for excellent filmmaking on the cheap (50-cent Tuesdays, anyone?) You’ll be crowing with delight.
Kathryn’s Rating: A