Monday, January 08, 2018

The Coens and "True Grit"

Joel and Ethan Coen are such offbeat, unique filmmakers that it was surprising when they chose to make True Grit, a film in the Western genre, and to do so with a straight approach that respected the conventions of the genre and one that was both a literary adaptation and a remake of an earlier film (Charles Portis' novel, and Henry Hathaway's 1969 film version, respectively).

The Coens' film of True Grit is one of the best films of its decade, and one of the best films the Coens have made, though it is unlikely to go down as one of their best-remembered films, though that is only because it is so different in approach from the style of their most popular movies.

There is so much to praise in True Grit, from the impeccable design and period detail, to the startling maturity and emotional honesty of Hailee Steinfeld's performance, but in my estimation, two things really make it stand apart in a class by itself: the writing by the Coens, and the starring performance of Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn. The 1969 film of True Grit provided the iconic John Wayne with one of his best roles, but Bridges manages to completely embody the character and make the role his own here.

The script is one of the best that the Coens have ever written, taking a sincere and straightforward approach to the material, the characters and dialogue imbued with honesty and poignancy without ever sliding into easy sentimentality or hitting a single false note. It's truly one of their finest achievements and, without exaggeration, one of the finest films yet made in the 21st century.

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