On December 25th, after a day trapped indoors with the family and little else to do but eat, sleep and watch television, I decided to venture out with my friend, LOS, and catch a film. Since I rarely make it to Maine, and since LOS is a huge (Huge is an understatement for this – monumental or colossal would be much truer in this context) fan of John Wayne films, and I am a consummate fan of the Coen Brothers, we decided that there was only one film we could settle on to watch and enjoy – True Grit. As we seated ourselves without snacks in a row 3/4 of the way back, dead in the middle of the row, a group of late teens situated themselves behind us, and pontificated about the Coens for no less then 20 minutes, while Los and I laughed at the conversation; half was false insight, the rest was just dead wrong. But then the lights dimmed, the teens quieted and the film began. At the end, I knew for certain there were no less then 3 Oscar noms coming for this piece; in reality, there were 8 – but according to the rules, I must write about 5 of them.
Starting with last year’s winner for Best Actor, Jeff Bridges puts the grit into True Grit. Only twice as a Best Actor winner repeated the following year – Spencer Tracy (for Captains Courageous and Boys Town) and Tom Hanks (for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump), so Jeff Bridges is staring into history just by being nominated for this role. As Rooster Cogburn (Immortalized by John Wayne in the 1969 film True Grit) he brings the look of Bad Blake from last years win into a period piece with slightly less drunkeness and much more humor then I thought. His comedic timing and down and dirty attitude anchored the film; his timing and humor gave levity at just the right moments. It was amazing to sit in a 2/3 full theatre and laugh my ass off at some of the one liners he dropped, that the majority of people missed. Even now, re-watching it – the humor and hilarity is there, in a dry way. Be careful not to miss it.
The humor is in no part helped by the Coen’s Adaptation of the screenplay from the 1968 novel that bears the same name. The Coen’s do have a way with the word, and from all accounts I have seen, this is a much more accurate adaptation from the novel then the 1969 John Wayne film was. Taken – and narrated – from the female character’s point of view, it helps give us – the outsiders – a feel as an outsider should feel when embarking on an adventure such as this. Combined with the intelligence of the Coen’s, the snappy dialogue and the little bits of humor gently sprinkled throughout makes this piece not only thoroughly enjoyable, but it subtly finds a way to keep you wrapped up and in non-stop.
By using the feminine perspective, they needed a strong female to lead the charge throughout this piece. This is where Hailee Steinfeld comes in, the 14 year old protagonist who give us the perspective of the entire film. The Coen’s settled on her, leaving the bulk of the film heaped upon her shoulders. While I respect the choice, and understand the limitations of having a child to lead 2 past Oscar winners (Bridges, and Matt Damon) as directed by 2 time Oscar winners (The Coen’s won for Fargo and No Country for Old Men) her nomination is peculiar, as she really did not act much in the course of the film. Yes, she said the lines, and pleaded at points, and panicked at others – but none of it felt particularly strong. Though capably acted, there wasn’t anything of exception in the delivery.
Unlike last years product (A Serious Man) which only garnered a nod for Best Picture, this year the Coen’s have also gathered a nom for Best Director. To me, that shows the measure of how serious and good a film really is in the age of 10 Best Picture nominees. And the Coen’s shoot grand outdoor shots as good – if not better – then anyone in Hollywood. They are very comfortable shooting in a landscape that is both grandiose and breathtaking all at once, plus when they are writing or adapting the script – you get a sense they are planning the film as they are writing it. As they did with Fargo, and No Country for Old Men, you get a sense of comfort within them of the subject matter at hand that they have not had for their last few films. Now, an adaptation of a novel that had previously been adapted and filmed 42 years earlier does not bode well for the Coen’s – but none the less, they have yet again created a masterpiece that is both visually and intellectually stunning. It might not win a lot of awards – but it should win something along the line.
Next up: Winter’s Bone