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Monday, 1 August 2011

True Grit - Review - 24/02/11

The story starts off with small fourteen year old girl Mattie Ross looking to bring her father’s killer to justice. Much like the rest of the characters she comes into contact with, you soon learn how deathly serious and determined she is to do right by her father in one of the most honest, courageous and honour driven adventures you’re likely to see from a little ’un. She’s incredibly capable and independent and soon proves her mettle early when forced to spend the night at the undertakers in the company of the corpses of the men she’s just seen hanged with minimal fuss, and boy can she haggle!

Equipped with determination and a good understanding of the law she goes about hiring a bounty hunter and is presented with a few options. Having sat in on Marshal ‘Rooster’ Cogburn’s latest dressing down for his itchy trigger finger she decides he is the perfect man for the job and makes her approach, but as you’d expect he wants nothing to do with it or her. Enter Mr LaBoeuf the Texas Ranger who reveals he has been in pursuit of the same man for several months for a different crime he committed back in Texas. He tries to reason with her that they are after the same thing, so she should back off and let him do his job, but she is adamant that Tom Chayney will hang for the crime on her father, not some poxy Texas crime that happens to offer a higher reward.

Eventually she persuades the Marshal to take her offer but he is aghast at terms that she goes with him and tries to set off without her. She’s having none of it, and when she sees him on the other side of the river about to depart in union with the Ranger she shows just how adamant she is in a stunt with her newly acquired horse ‘Little Blackie’ that is the first step in winning the Marshal over. Begrudgingly the Ranger agrees to travel as a trio and now with the Marshal’s knowledge of the area as well as the Ranger’s knowledge of the target the adventure can officially begin.

One of the first things I’d say about this film is that it really does take you to another place. At first I found it slightly off-putting that almost every single character seems to be equipped with an abundance of intelligence in the form of quick wit and every conversation felt like an intense standoff and battle of the mind. Okay the girl is a spectacular example but being one of the main characters you’d expect there to be something special about her. Although she is vastly superior the rule seems to spread throughout the characters and even the exchange between her and the little stable boy is far more intellectual than anything you’re likely to eavesdrop on nowadays as you mill about on public transport. The one exception is a scene where there are a couple of kids are aggravating a horse with a stick, but the Marshal soon deals with them in one of the most comic yet understated moments I’ve ever seen on film. (I’m giggling right now as I think back to it.)

As soon as you surrender and allow yourself to become immersed into the story however it’s like being given the key to unlock the colloquial barrier, and phrases and expressions make perfect sense - every conversation had me captivated as I basked in this new language. It truly draws you in and this western world, although based on an actual period of time feels otherworldly yet inviting and desirable.

The chemistry between the main characters is brilliantly done. One of the things that I find impressive about this film is the lack of a true romantic love story. It seems nowadays that one gets slipped in to almost every film just to tick a box. Instead it focuses on a paternal bond that the girl starts to form with the Marshal which is subsidised with similar moments of bonding with the Texas Ranger whenever doubts start to form over whether the Marshal is actually a suitable candidate for the recently vacated position. Obviously there’s a hole in her heart that she is unknowingly trying to fill and this comes across brilliantly.

The relationship between the Ranger and the Marshal is also a highlight. They are reluctant to get on and their constant sparring for superiority of the situation is their own personal bond through one up man ship. This provides hostility and humour, the Ranger walking out on them multiple times and a great scene after the Ranger has been injured where a drunken Marshal sets up a one arm vs. one eye corn bread clay pigeon shoot out. Less ‘mine is bigger than yours’ and more ‘I can make better use of it’. When it matters though they are able to put their squabbles aside in the interests of protecting the girl in that natural ‘do it for the kid’ reasoning. Through joint effort they look out for her safety and a touching honourable exit from ‘Little Blackie’ ensure she makes it out of the film alive.

The three character performances were superb. Jeff Bridges makes an undisputed Marshal and I couldn’t think of anybody who’d have played the role better. I’ve often heard people criticise Matt Damon’s role in a number of films, but I can gladly say his performance as the Texas Ranger shouldn’t be one of them. Hailee Steinfeld’s big screen debut will be hard to top now such was the calibre of her performance. I just hope she can play another role in the future that can measure up to such an impressive start of what I’m sure will be a long and prosperous career. Their on screen chemistry is believable and refreshing and each of them supports each other when one character drops out of the loop to make a perfect trio. Their roles are clear and when the two men start their bickering it is the only time that little Mattie Ross drops her bravado and shows her age, trying her best to patch things up like a kid caught in the crossfire when mummy and daddy start fighting again.

Are you one of those people who don’t like Matt Damon’s acting and want to see Jeff Bridges literally try to rip his tongue out of his mouth? Maybe you want confirmation he’s a bad person and want documented evidence, like say if he were to bend a fourteen year old girl over his knee and give her a good old fashioned spanking? Or perhaps you just want to watch a thoroughly enjoyable western that is unlikely to be topped in a long, long time. In that case I recommend this film to you. The Coen brothers have done a fantastic job.

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