True Grit, 2010
Dir: Coen Bros.
I think the Coen Brothers natural proclivity for quirky characters and dialogue really hurts them in a Western because it basically reveals the whole thing to be paper thin at best. All the characters do their thing and that's it. Considering how they bucked the trend in A Serious Man (2009), I had some higher hopes for this. The set-up is pretty Western standard, which is fine, and there are some fun scenes, but only one character reveals himself to be more than meets the eye (possibly?). As I've said about Westerns before, plot and story are pretty irrelevant, and good, complex characters are everything.
There is some debate over whether this is grim or actually pretty light, and honestly, I don't even think the Coens know. Maybe that's the whole point. How funny everything is can get lost in the language, but I think I laughed a few times. In terms of "villains", was Josh Brolin supposed to be laughed at 'cause he actually turned out to be pretty stupid? For a character supposedly known for his deviousness, he turned out to be something a lot less than that. In a different situation it might have been a good thing, but here it's decidedly underwhelming. Everyone else in Barry Pepper's gang has no chance to stand out, and the one guy that did made fucking animal noises.
The three main characters we have to follow offer some good acting, if not a whole lot of character depth (Bridges' ramblings about his ex-wives seems to be the epitome of irrelevant. Is that why you drink, or what? Does it reveal anymore than kicking Indians? Or is that just a funny "that's just how things were" moment). I was actually kind of impressed by Hailee Stanfield as Mattie Ross, but it's hard for a kid to externalize all the emotion a great character has. She only reveals herself to be a kid a few times ("Do we really need him, Marshall?") but it's never really enough to make her something more than just her dialogue suggests. On the other hand, I thought Matt Damon's La Boeuf was great probably because I didn't know what the hell his deal was. He's quick to to defend the honor of himself and the Texas Rangers but it belied a sensitive, uncertain side, and he might have been a closet pedo. I mean, the "sneaking a kiss" line at the beginning could have been a throw away, but then the unnecessary, over-the-top spanking and then some of the looks he gives Mattie sort of sealed it for me. Of course, it's all very ambiguous, but that's why I thought he was a good character.
Roger Deakins is a pretty good cinematographer but I don't know why everyone is flipping out over this. I thought the only really nice canvasy, Western shots were done in traveling montage rendering them pretty pointless. And the whole whole scary snakes ending. What was that? And the epilogue made it out like the whole movie was about how time passes us by, which is not the impression I got at all.
There are better Westerns. Just check earlier in this blog.