Film and TV

Reviews For The Easily Distracted:
True Grit

Title: True Grit

They Remade That John Wayne Movie? Yes, minus Glen Campbell.

But Aren't You The One Who's Always Bitching About Hollywood's Lack Of Creativity? This is true, but I think the guys responsible for No Country For Old Men, Miller's Crossing and Fargo, among others, have earned the right to the odd remake.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant to the Film: Four rattlesnakes out of five.

Tagline: "Punishment comes one way or another."

Better Tagline: "See the movie that was obviously distracting Jeff Bridges while he was filming TRON: Legacy."

Brief Synopsis: After Tom Chaney guns her father down in cold blood, young Mattie Ross enlists the aid of Marshall Reuben "Rooster" Cogburn to hunt the man down. And tags along herself, of course.

Not-So Brief Synopsis: Mattie (Hailee Steinfeld) is a young lady of unusual determination, and it takes some doing to rouse the irascible (and drunken) Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to join her hunt for Tom Chaney. The situation is complicated by the appearance of Texas Ranger LaBeouf (Matt Damon), who wants Chaney for a murder committed in Waco. Together, the three comb Arkansas for the murderer.

Does Damon Spend The Whole Movie Doing His Matthew McConaughey Impression? Yeah. If you've seen the bit in question, it's actually kind of distracting.

Thankfully, he never invites Mattie or Marshall Cogburn down to Kilgore for some BBQ.

"Critical" Analysis: Westerns used to be the most prevalent genre in film, and just about every actor in Hollyood starred in a dozen or so during the span of their career. Now we have romantic comedies and courtroom dramas (which I'm sure we'll all agree are much more entertaining), and actors do Westerns when they want to make an authentic statement about the period (Unforgiven, Wyatt Earp), or they're looking to put on cowboy hats and goof around (Young Guns, Tombstone).

Part of this stems from our collective lack of romanticism with regards to the Old West. Thanks to Sergio Leone, Sam Peckinpah, and Clint Eastwood, we savvy modern audiences now know life on the frontier was often Hobbesian in nature, with Injuns, exposure, and disease all playing their part. Plus, no indoor plumbing. Eww.

Certainly there were dark themes in some of those old movies -- Wayne's own The Searchers is surprisingly bleak -- but it wasn't until the '60s and '70s that Hollywood really started abandoning the antiseptic version of the antebellum West.

The original True Grit occupied something like middle ground. Cogburn was a drunk, and haunted by his past, but the film was often unintentionally hilarious. And it had Glen Campbell, which to put a modern take on it, would be like casting Josh Groban alongside Bridges today.

The story is as linear as anything the Coens have ever produced, hewing more closely to the Charles Portis novel than the 1969 version: There's more deliberate humor, especially in the portrayals of Bridges and Damon, and the ending revisits characters some 25 years in the future, giving a sense of closure the Wayne version lacked.

The style attempts to emulate the feel of classic Westerns, right down to the screen wipes, which might be distracting if not for cinematographer Roger Deakins' predictable excellence. The opening shot, Mattie's father lying dead in the light of a saloon door, is something else. He really brings the desolate landscapes of New Mexico and West Texas (subbing for Arkansas) to beautiful life.

Bridges' version of Cogburn is certainly less...energetic than Wayne's, but he's more believable as a lawman in the twilight of his career. Damon jokes aside, his La Boeuf is a sad case: cruel and insecure, but like so many millennial characters, erring just enough on the side of good to make him a lighter shade of gray.

But the real discovery is Hailee Steinfeld, who easily holds her own next to the outsized personalities of Cogburn and Chaney, True Grit will be nominated for a slew of Oscars, but she's the most deserving. It's a very good film, with great work done across the board, but somewhat...dispassionate. In the end, I couldn't help feeling like everybody involved just sort of threw a dart at a board listing classic movies and randomly ended up making this one.

See It/Rent It/Skip It: See it. But if you must "fill your hands with something," make it popcorn and soda. You son of a bitch.

True Grit is in theaters today. See it with both eyes.

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar