Tuesday, February 1, 2011

True Grit?

What a disappointment! We had heard so many good things about True Grit, and I had obviously begun to believe the hype. We went to see it yesterday and found it to be largely a cliche-ridden bore, in need of serious editing to weed out the dull parts. I have, particularly, a fondness for Jeff Bridges--who was featured on the cover of a recent Tricycle magazine...

... and is, therefore, presumably, a fellow practitioner--but he phoned this one in. While I do not recall the original John Wayne version of the story, though I'm sure I saw it at the time, I cannot believe that the current version is in any way superior.

It's an episodic narrative which stitches together pieces of journey with outbursts of violent gunplay, held together by a plucky girl's determination to avenge her father's death. (Teen actor Hailee Steinfeld does a nice job as the smart and prissy Mattie Ross.) She hires the drunken codger, Rooster Cogburn, who has seen it all and done it all and wants nothing better than to buy the next pint of whiskey--a role so familiar to Jeff Bridges by now that he should have known better than to take it on again. Matt Damon is the upright Texas ranger with justice on his mind and a bug up his rear end. The miscreant who killed Mattie's father in cold blood is played by Josh Brolin. His inevitable comeuppance, after all the hoopla, comes with such perfunctory dispatch, it provides something of an anticlimax at a moment when climax is needed.

A fine cast, then, but they never get past the cliches of the parts they're given to play. Aside from a few kind of silly attempts to give them backstory, the movie relies heavily on their faces to create "character." The Coen brothers seem to assume that interesting faces--and there are many of them in the movie--can substitute for interesting people. They can't. They are just interesting faces. They are masks, behind which lurks a certain of absence of humanity if not, in Coen brothers movies, outright cynicism and cruelty.

If there was any further complication of plot or depth of character, I missed it. It may have been hidden somewhere in the largely incomprehensible, consistently mumbled dialogue. I get that this was an attempt not only to revive the venerable western genre but also, at the same time, to have a little fun with its conventions. And I have to say that it was "well-filmed." The scenery was consistently gorgeous, the dramatic fight scenes finely staged and executed (forgive the pun!) the sets and costumes convincingly created.

And yet... as with so many of the products of these truly talented film makers, I left the theater with a feeling of emptiness--an emptiness not of the open, spacious, Buddhist kind, but rather that old-fashioned, existential emptiness left in the wake of God's (or the gods') much-discussed abandonment of the contemporary world in which we live. It's a feeling I can best describe with the word "dispiriting"--a kind of draining out of everything of spiritual value in the human experience, an all-too believable realism that makes mockery of our saving graces, such as they are.

There is, as Ellie pointed out to me, an attempt at the very end of the movie to restore some human dignity to the characters and to put the adventure in a broader perspective. But it's a perfunctory gesture. And you still have to wonder: what's Jeff Bridges doing in a place like this?



Peter-----John Wayne....Red River, Fort Apache, She wore a Yellow Ribbon....Rio Grande..these must have been some of those wild films you and I rode our bikes to see at the nearest village cinema in the late 40s early 50s - I think they must have been the first films I ever saw! Michael

PeterAtLarge said...

And what a thrill it was! Thanks for the memory!

TaraDharma said...

Eh, we liked it. For a real riveting experience, see The Fighter. Wowie what a portrait.