Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Steve Carell Redefined His Career By Surprising Everyone in 'Foxcatcher' Steve Carell Redefined His Career By Surprising Everyone in 'Foxcatcher' Watch: Ellar Coltrane on the 'Brutal' Experience of Watching 'Boyhood' After Living It Watch: Ellar Coltrane on the 'Brutal' Experience of Watching 'Boyhood' After Living It Mortem Tyldum Explains Why Alan Turing Was the Right Subject For His First English-Language Film Mortem Tyldum Explains Why Alan Turing Was the Right Subject For His First English-Language Film Why Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is a Great, Unexpected Awards Season Frontrunner Why Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is a Great, Unexpected Awards Season Frontrunner Watch: Patricia Arquette on Stripping Away Ego to Get to the Heart of 'Boyhood' 
Watch: Patricia Arquette on Stripping Away Ego to Get to the Heart of 'Boyhood' 'Whiplash' Breakout Miles Teller Has Officially Arrived 'Whiplash' Breakout Miles Teller Has Officially Arrived Michael Keaton Dug Deep to Deliver the Best Performance of His Career in 'Birdman' Michael Keaton Dug Deep to Deliver the Best Performance of His Career in 'Birdman' Mark Ruffalo Explains Why Dave Schultz Was One of the Most Complex Characters He's Ever Played Mark Ruffalo Explains Why Dave Schultz Was One of the Most Complex Characters He's Ever Played Keira Knightley on 'The Imitation Game' and Why Awards Matter Keira Knightley on 'The Imitation Game' and Why Awards Matter Katherine Waterston On the Good and Bad of Working With Paul Thomas Anderson Katherine Waterston On the Good and Bad of Working With Paul Thomas Anderson Emma Stone Proved She Can Do It All in 2014 Emma Stone Proved She Can Do It All in 2014 Jon Stewart is Off to a Strong Start with Directorial Debut 'Rosewater' Jon Stewart is Off to a Strong Start with Directorial Debut 'Rosewater' Awards Spotlight: Don't Be Surprised When J.K. Simmons Takes Home Oscar Awards Spotlight: Don't Be Surprised When J.K. Simmons Takes Home Oscar Jessica Chastain Proved She's a Total Chameleon in 2014 Jessica Chastain Proved She's a Total Chameleon in 2014 Laura Poitras on 'CITIZENFOUR,' The Most Dangerous Work She's Ever Done Laura Poitras on 'CITIZENFOUR,' The Most Dangerous Work She's Ever Done Jake Gyllenhaal On Doing Very Bad Things in 'Nightcrawler' Jake Gyllenhaal On Doing Very Bad Things in 'Nightcrawler' Channing Tatum Explains Why It Took Him Eight Years to Have the ‘Balls’ for ‘Foxcatcher’ Channing Tatum Explains Why It Took Him Eight Years to Have the ‘Balls’ for ‘Foxcatcher’ Ethan Hawke Didn't Know That Richard Linklater Would Bring 'Boyhood' Home So Well Ethan Hawke Didn't Know That Richard Linklater Would Bring 'Boyhood' Home So Well Jack O'Connell Explains What It’s Like to Work For Angelina Jolie Jack O'Connell Explains What It’s Like to Work For Angelina Jolie 'Red Army' Director Gabe Polsky Reveals the Story of Soviet Hockey 'Red Army' Director Gabe Polsky Reveals the Story of Soviet Hockey How Felicity Jones is Getting Noticed This Awards Season How Felicity Jones is Getting Noticed This Awards Season Edward Norton Goes Full-Blown For Alejandro González Iñárritu in 'Birdman' Edward Norton Goes Full-Blown For Alejandro González Iñárritu in 'Birdman' How Eddie Redmayne Transformed His Body and Mind to Become Stephen Hawking How Eddie Redmayne Transformed His Body and Mind to Become Stephen Hawking Oscar Isaac Explains How 'A Most Violent Year' Fits With His Other Roles Oscar Isaac Explains How 'A Most Violent Year' Fits With His Other Roles Timothy Spall Almost Went Mad to Play 'Mr. Turner' For Mike Leigh Timothy Spall Almost Went Mad to Play 'Mr. Turner' For Mike Leigh 'Gone Girl' Composer Atticus Ross: How to Write a Score Without Seeing the Film 'Gone Girl' Composer Atticus Ross: How to Write a Score Without Seeing the Film How to Play James Brown, By Chadwick Boseman: Study the Man, Listen to Drake How to Play James Brown, By Chadwick Boseman: Study the Man, Listen to Drake Chris Rock on Why Making 'Top Five' Was a No-Brainer Chris Rock on Why Making 'Top Five' Was a No-Brainer Steve James and Chaz Ebert Tackled 'Life Itself' Steve James and Chaz Ebert Tackled 'Life Itself' Bennett Miller Explains Why He Had to Make 'Foxcatcher' Bennett Miller Explains Why He Had to Make 'Foxcatcher' How Do You Roll Six Movies Into One? 'Wild Tales' Director Damian Szifron Explains How Do You Roll Six Movies Into One? 'Wild Tales' Director Damian Szifron Explains How Rosario Dawson Stole the Show From Chris Rock in 'Top Five' How Rosario Dawson Stole the Show From Chris Rock in 'Top Five' Alan Hicks: From Drummer-Surfer to Oscar-Shortlist Filmmaker Alan Hicks: From Drummer-Surfer to Oscar-Shortlist Filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu: 'Birdman' Could Have Been 'so wrong' Alejandro González Iñárritu: 'Birdman' Could Have Been 'so wrong' Amir Bar-Lev Likes to Make People a Little Uncomfortable Amir Bar-Lev Likes to Make People a Little Uncomfortable

REVIEW | Western Competence: The Coens Play It Safe With "True Grit"

Photo of Eric Kohn By Eric Kohn | Indiewire December 17, 2010 at 2:13AM

The 1969 version of "True Grit," an adaptation of Charles Portis's novel, starred John Wayne (in his late period, ultra-grizzly mode) as jaded U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn, a man hired by determined Texan teen Maddie (Kim Darby) to track down the man who shot her father. The 2010 version of "True Grit" is grimier, slightly kookier, trades Wayne for Jeff Bridges in a role that fits him just as well -- and, perhaps most significantly, also trades Henry Hathaway's routine direction for the complex pastiche approach of Joel and Ethan Coen. Nevertheless, the Coens have restrained themselves this time out, resulting in a visually scrumptious product with little to offer beyond the acceptable ingredients of a classic western.
4

The 1969 version of "True Grit," an adaptation of Charles Portis's novel, starred John Wayne (in his late period, ultra-grizzly mode) as jaded U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn, a man hired by determined Texan teen Maddie (Kim Darby) to track down the man who shot her father. The 2010 version of "True Grit" is grimier, slightly kookier, trades Wayne for Jeff Bridges in a role that fits him just as well -- and, perhaps most significantly, also trades Henry Hathaway's routine direction for the complex pastiche approach of Joel and Ethan Coen. Nevertheless, the Coens have restrained themselves this time out, resulting in a visually scrumptious product with little to offer beyond the acceptable ingredients of a classic western.

The presence of Johnny Cash's "God's Gonna Cut You Down" in the "True Grit" trailer suggests a fierce, modern update to a genre woefully abandoned years ago. Instead, the Coens have crafted a smoothly formulaic accomplishment that seems likely to go down as one of the more prominent footnotes to their greater projects. That's not to say it doesn't work on its own terms; it does, often to dazzling effect: "True Grit" is a cinematic marvel that evokes the dreamy western iconography most commonly associated with John Ford. Photographed by Coens mainstay Roger Deakins, the vast, immersive vistas mesh nicely with a folksy soundtrack inspired by 19th century hymns courtesy of their other regular collaborator, composer Carter Burwell. Together, they recreate the welcome familiarity of a dust-caked universe.

The brothers' screenplay, at times markedly similar to the earlier adaptation, steadily tracks Mattie (impressively portrayed by newcomer Hailee Steinfeld) as she persists in joining Rooster on the trail for her revenge, slowly sees beyond his rough exterior, and begins to view him as a surrogate father figure. When the body count rises, the Coens emphasize Mattie's growing disgust at the masculine violence around her, turning her experience into a dark coming-of-age story.

It's also a competent men-on-a-mission yarn, with Matt Damon rounding out the main cast as a clumsy ranger named LeBoeuf always one step behind Rooster's cautious detective work. Their progress has an erratic rhythm. After a lengthy trek through the wilderness, the trio finally closes in on their murdering target, the witless Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), and the climax of "True Grit" briefly crumbles in a clumsy shootout before winding back to a satisfying conclusion.

Overall, however, "True Grit" has few memorable bits. Only specific comparisons between the two adaptations reveal the Coens' sly voice beneath the surface. Known for matching physical overstatement with keen insights about human behavior, their distinctive technique occasionally elevates "True Grit" to something beyond the boundaries of the genre. Fleeting comic violence (a pair of fingers suddenly lopped off; LeBeoeuf's hysterically awkward tongue injury) and the almost Malick-like stillness of the closing shot provide glimmers of the directors' stylistic flourishes.

Mainly, "True Grit" functions as an elaborate homage that results in their most conventional outing behind the camera. In recent years, the Coens have been second only to Pixar with their track record of churning out widely enjoyable movies, and their latest effort doesn't break that winning streak (at least not to the extent that, say, "The Ladykillers" did). Still, it's hard to shake the feeling that they settled for consistency over innovation. Thematically, "True Grit" contains numerous links to their previous films, from the barren landscapes of "No Country for Old Men" to the bumbling anti-hero of "The Big Lebowski." By blending into the material, it suits them. But that doesn't make it any less obvious that they can do better.

criticWIRE grade: B+

This article is related to: In Theaters, True Grit






Check out Indiewire on LockerDome on LockerDome



Awards Season Spotlight

Contender Conversations

Indiewire celebrates the best and brightest from Independent film, Hollywood, and foreign cinema.

More