Review – True Grit (2011)

True Grit

Joel and Ethan Coen

2011

“The world itself is vexing enough”

A maddening, headstrong young girl embarks on a journey to see her father’s killer brought to justice. With this in mind she enlists the help of Rooster Cogburn, an old, fat, intrepid, alcoholic marshal who knows the Indian Territory they will travel and isn’t squeamish when it comes to killing a man or two.

Many people were worried and some downright upset when they heard a remake of True Grit was being made. As if this version would erase the former one from history. Well it didn’t. It’s still around and I assume well stocked at HMV. All this film did was take the story and improve the plot, photograph it better, make it funnier and more solemn and stay more faithful to the book (if that sort of thing interests you). Jeff Bridges is spot on as Rooster. He is both repulsively charming and charmingly repulsive. Matt Damon gives the best performance of his career as La Boef, a Texas Ranger full of equal parts pride and shit. Hailee Steinfeld holds her own against Kim Darby from the original (whom after Justin Bieber got famous I can’t take seriously) as Maddie, the real heart and the ‘true’ grit of the film.

I don’t want to suggest that I don’t like the original True Grit. It’s a good film and worth seeing. But the Coen’s simply made a better film from the same material.

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Review – The Man Who Wasn’t There

The Man Who Wasn’t There

Joel Coen & Ethan Coen (uncredited)

2001

“What kind of man are you?”

A surburban barber is interested in investing in a business opportunity a client peddles to him one day, but to get the money means blackmailing his wife’s boss and lover. All does not go to plan.

The Man Who Wasn’t There is a wonderfully constructed film. From the poster you should be able to tell that this is the Coen’s in a more serious mood (it’s more Blood Simple than Raising Arizona), but as with most of their films (No Country for Old Men aside), there is an essence of knowing charm and wit for which they are famous. Although this film is technically brilliant (the cinematography is shot in a beautiful noir-ish tint and the lighting and production design all top notch) it’s the performances that make this film what it is. Billy Bob Thornton is fantastic as Ed Crane, the languid protagonist caught up in something he cannot control, his narration I found hilarious at times. Jon Polito as the business man is also terrific, playing it on the edge of confidence and ridiculousness. The best performance in the film was Tony Shalhoub playing Freddy Riedenschneider, a greedy, arrogant and brilliant lawyer. From the first minute he is on the screen everything has been conveyed. It just rang completely true. If a more famous actor had played this role half as well, they would have been Oscar nominated.