Monday, January 31, 2011

True Grit

Last weekend, I went to see "True Grit." After the film got passed over by the Golden Globes but showered by the Oscar nominations, I was curious. Plus, westerns tie into my love of cowboys, independence, and handguns, so how can I not enjoy them. I didn't really grow up watching any westerns when I was a kid, as that genre had more-than-faded-away by my TV watching prime. But when we first got basic cable, TNT was still showing cowboy movies along with the occasional made-for-TV western. And Saturday morning was a western-themed bonanza.

First up was, in fact, Bonanza. I never really cared too much for it. I know that another show was a part of it, too, possibly Rawhide or Gunsmoke. I never really watched any of these shows, except the occasional episode here or there, just to see Doctor McCoy on a horse. The two shows that I loved were the final pieces of the Saturday TV block: The Wild Wild West and The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. Lucky for me, they were on back-to-back.

But that's another blog post - this one is on "True Grit." I just wanted to give you some background on admiration for cowboys and westerns.

"True Grit" was very very good. I've never seen the version starring John Wayne, but I do know that it was the film for which he won his only Academy Award. Even though history regards it as an "honorary win" for his long career, and Wayne himself said that he had given better performances. He cited his performance in the movie "Stagecoach," which is one of my favorites. (Highly recommended.) I've posted a picture of Wayne as Rooster Cogburn, the character he played in the film. I also did not realize that "True Grit" was a novel, on which both films are based. I'm very interested now to see the John Wayne version to see how two very-different films interpret the same story with the same characters.

And now, if you've kept reading, I'll tell you what I thought of this modern version. I really liked it. The acting in it was top notch, including the Oscar-nominated 14-year-old Hailee Steinfeld, playing the leading role of the young girl out to avenge the murder of her father. She gave a deep and soulful, fully realized performance that made me wonder just how old she was. When I found out her actual age, I was stunned. Performances by child actors aren't usually that rich. As Rooster Cogburn, Jeff Bridges was a bundle of fun. He didn't start the film as a particularly likeable character, but he slowly grew on me. I've included a picture of him as well. Take a look at them both, and notice the way that Hollywood's image of "drunk and troubled" has changed. I also found it interested that both actors wore their eye patch over a different eye. (Wayne said his was in tribute to John Huston.) I'm guessing that Bridges more accurately reflects the original novel. And I liked the performance Bridges gave, too, although I thought it occasionally lapsed a little too much into the "if I squint, sneer, drawl, or act like a lunatic, I'll be able to convince people that I'm acting" school of performing (for excellent examples, see Johnny Depp, Robert Downey Jr, and, lately, Christian Bale.) Bridges pulls off weight and gravitas behind his antics, and it makes his performance real in a way that I don't find with the others.

But I was really impressed by Matt Damon. I think he is one of the underrated actors working in movies today, and his performance was subtle and effective. He was almost unrecognizable in the first few trailers I saw for the movie, but he looks great in the film. After his character suffers a... mishap..., Damon actually convinced me that he had an almost-severed tongue. The vocal work was amazing and subtle, and it actually took me most of a scene to realize he was doing anything at all. It was impressive. The ensemble all worked together well, too, and it was a lot of fun to watch all these actors at the top of their craft.
Another aspect of the movie that deserves to be mentioned is one of the very first shots - a shot of the old west frontier town. The camera rises over the old-time train to show the main street of the town, and it took my breath away. Using CGI to create landscapes and buildings is nothing new, but I think that one of it's most important uses is to re-create these images from the past. Think about those beautiful cityscapes in the Peter Jackson "King Kong" showing a NYC that no longer exists. Imagine the period pieces that can be done now...

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