True Grit (2010)
Genre: Western, Adventure, Drama, Comedy
Director: Coen Bros
Cast: Hailee Steinfeld, Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin
Music: Carter Burwell
Distributor: Paramount Pictures Australia
What is happening with the Coen Brothers lately? It seems like they are having more misses than hits in their recent catalogue. Perhaps they are getting lazy in their comfortable esteemed seat of success? Or perhaps they are trying new techniques in the hopes of stumbling across greatness once again? All i know is that i have been disheartened by their recent efforts. Intolerable Cruelty, The Ladykillers, Burn After Reading, all come up short in my view. Sure, why not give screwball comedy a red hot go – it’s an admirable effort to bring back such a beloved genre in such a densely critical and skeptical social climate that we live in today. If they had just produced dudds from a certain point in time it would be much easier to write them off (similar to Woody Allen), but herein lies the complexity: Sprinkled throughout their recent collection of films they have made some absolute gems (No Country For Old Men, Oh Brother, The Man Who Wasn’t There, even their short in Paris, je t’aime) which makes the decision to go see their films a 50/50 scenario. Is it going to be one of their good ones or one of their bad ones? This leads me to True Grit.
Putting the Coen Brothers up for the challenge to make a Western automatically sounded great to me. I figured they would make a memorable Western, the masterfully pitched suspense of No Country still vivid in my minds eye and the importance they place on their characters authenticity is a perfect match for the Western genre. However, i was sorely disappointed. I kept asking the question: Why the fluffy approach to this film? Why did they not play on their talent for dark comedy and suspense?And why didn’t the cinematography blow me away? Roger Deakins is one of the most talented DP’s out there but he fell short on this one. Maybe he should have shot it in VistaVision to give himself more of a challenge for comparing it’s look with other Westerns (such as the Searchers, Once Upon A Time In The West, etc.) it comes off being somewhere in the vicinity of dullsville. There is no excuse considering the technological advancements that have been made in the world of film over the past several decades. This ties in with the shonky blending of VFX material overlaying the production footage. When the blending of both areas of the process is not seamless the footage proves to be distracting – this is not what you want when following a narrative. Examples being the stars at night, the green screening of the cast as they rode their horses (i realise this is probably meant to pay homage to the old Westerns. Instead it threw me), the blood splatter, etc.
Plus, the sound FX and score was well and truly over the top. They tried to use the score to heighten the drama but instead it repelled me from experiencing the emotion of the story. Does it really have to be so over the top? This goes for the non-diegetic sound design also. Well and truly over-studio-ed. I would like to hear what a real gun sounds like please. This would add much more authenticity to the world that these characters live in.
The performances were alright, the girl did a good job. You can tell that the other cast members had some fun with their characters – that seem to have been written as parodies rather than true identities of that era. Jarmusch did a much better job in Dead Man with this approach. This is probably due to the film actually having some real themes running through it. True Grit on the other hand did not exhibit any such quality themes/messages. The stand out performance was probably Little Blacky the horse.
The Coen’s usually excel with character nuances and dialogue. However, they indulged themselves a little too much on this one having written in too much drivel in their dialogue than useful plot points. They decided to approach this narrative with a light dilly dally into a Western genre and it blew up in their face. I would’ve much preferred watching a couple of episodes of Deadwood than this film. At least Deadwood put the effort in to character development and authenticity of the times.
All in all i am disappointed Coens… put the effort into it next time. What a waste of resources.