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A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

True Grit

I'm just not a Coen Brothers fan. Haven't been a big Coen Brothers fan for some 25 years now, their first overrated movie was their very first Blood Simple, which I saw and didn't think was all that great at the old State Theatre in Ann Arbor during my college days. For trivia buffs, the State is just a few doors down from the original Borders location, and they still show movies in the two theatres that were twinned out of the old balcony, the street level is retail.

Now, True Grit is better than a lot of other movies, let's be sure to say that. Not without its virtues. But like even the best Coen Brothers movies, I just don't think it's as good as everyone's running around saying it is. Most of you probably know what it's about, but since I can summarize it quickly enough... 14-year old hires a US Marshall to find the man who shot down her father, and she accompanies him on the journey.

So one of the virtues in chief here is that of Hailee Steinfeld, the actual 14 year old who is playing the 14 year old. Her performance is stunningly good, especially in the early going when she has to make her presence felt in order to get her quest for justice taken seriously, and a bit more in the later going when actually face to face with her nemesis. But one of the not virtues is that most of the space in-between is taken up with all of the usual Western movie bonding cliches you can imagine,and there's nothing much special about them here. So I found an awful lot of the stuff between the first 20 minutes and the last 20 minutes to be kind of dull and uninteresting. But Steinfeld's performance is revelatory. Bravura. Wonderful. Maybe even worth the price of admission.

Alas (and yes, this will be sacrilege to some, I know) Jeff Bridges acts in Coen Brothers movies the way four year olds act when they're trying to hide wrongdoing, which is to say not very convincingly. Egads, what an awful performance. It's just so overacted, so caricatured, so painless to watch almost every single moment he's on screen. Bridges is a much better actor than this, no fault to be found with him in last year's Crazy Heart, as I said in my review of that he inhabits the role like I inhabit my recliner. But if in Tron he was acting like the director had put tranquilizers in his breakfast food, here he's acting with some weird psycho energy going on. Hated pretty much every minute he was on screen, which was most of the movie. And then you've got Matt Damon, giving one of his lesser performances, and Josh Brolin playing the bad guy every bit as much the caricature as Jeff Bridges.

The movie is gorgeous to look at, really really really gorgeous. The photography is by Roger Deakins, who's done quite a few Coen Brothers movies and many others besides, other of his recent movies include Revolutionary Road (not so good but not the photography's fault) and the excellent The Reader and A Serious Men. There's one beautiful composition after enough, the wide screen frame is filled with wide screen imagery that yearns to be seen on a big screen (I was fortunate enough to be admiring on the very big screen at Clearview's Ziegfeld). But I think I had too much time to enjoy some of the photography. There are an abundance of scenes that go on just a little too long, from the first outhouse meeting between 14-year old and Marshall that could have lost 30 seconds easy, to the ride back home after the final confrontation, to the scene with the snakes that seemed to go on too long even as it didn't go on long enough for another character to get into place. Interestingly enough even though this movie seems to me to go on a beat too long in numerous locations, it's almost 20 minutes shorter than the original 1969 film with John Wayne.

So, OK, there are virtues. If they want to give this an award for its photography, or for the score by Carter Burwell, or for the performance by Hailee Steinfeld, well, go ahead. If this wins Best Picture against much better movies like King's Speech or Social Network, I'll be rather annoyed as I do my traditional Oscar Live Blog at the end of February. Won't be the first time.

The film is based on a novel by Charles Portis.


brycemoore said...

I had a polar opposite response to this one. Then again, something about the Coen Bros movies hits me in a way few other movies do. I've had almost no misses with them. I think I must be hardwired somehow to like Coen Bros movies. My favorite was Miller's Crossing. True Grit is up there now, too. Really enjoyed it.

Can we still be friends? :-)

Myke said...

You and I are never going to agree on what makes a movie good.

Not ever.

Zen of Writing said...

I was a little disappointed in Bridges, too -- I thought he sounded too much like Billy Bob Thornton in Slingblade. Liked the movie, anyway.