Per­fect mar­riage of Old West and clas­sic Coens

Kapi-Mana News - - ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT -

Some thought the western dead when Mel Brooks poked fun at the genre in Blaz­ing Sad­dles (though in re­flec­tion Young Guns was more dam­ag­ing), and cer­tainly the ro­man­tic, wist­ful grandeur of the old horse op­eras was dealt a blow by Clint East­wood’s bru­tal re­vi­sion­ism in Un­for­given.

Since then, the western hero has been re­cast as a hal­lu­ci­nat­ing ac­coun­tant-turned-poet and ‘‘killer of white man’’ ( Dead Man), and flung into present-day Texas, where horses must out­run he­li­copters ( The Three Buri­als of Melquiades Estrada), and hon­ourable quick-draw show­downs in the street have been re­placed with Mex­i­can drug deals gone wrong ( No Coun­try For Old Men).

What would John Wayne think of all this? In­deed, what would he think of the Coen Broth­ers’ take on True Grit? Charles Por­tis’ cel­e­brated novel was first adapted for film in 1969, as a John Wayne ve­hi­cle, most no­table for net­ting The Duke his one and only Os­car.

There would likely be some grum­bling about his iconic char­ac­ter, Rooster Cog­burn, be­ing re­duced to sec­ond fid­dle by a pre­co­cious teenage girl, but I think he’d like it. True Grit is sur­pris­ingly old-school.

Cer­tainly, much of the hu­mour and the fo­cus on the Mat­tie Ross char­ac­ter has more to do with the Coens (and Por­tis’ orig­i­nal story) than the clas­sic western, but there is a free­wheel­ing bravado to the pic­ture’s tone, its gor­geous score and sim­plis­tic sto­ry­telling, that harks back to a beloved era.

Four­teen-year-old fire­brand Ms Ross (a won­der­ful Hailee Ste­in­feld), em­ploys US Mar­shal Cog­burn (Jeff Bridges) to track down Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), the man who killed her fa­ther. Mat­tie em­ploys Rooster be­cause he is the mean­est, most ruth­less mar­shal – be­cause he has ‘ true grit’ – though the ti­tle of the pic­ture ac­tu­ally refers to the child her­self.

We watch Mat­tie bed for a night amongst the corpses of a mor­tu­ary – prefer­able to shar­ing a bed with an old slag at the board­ing house; we see her out-barter a cun­ning trader, and tag along for the man­hunt – much to the con­ster­na­tion of Rooster and a fel­low bounty hunter, the ir­re­press­ible wind­bag LaBoeuf (Matt Da­mon).

Though as prag­matic and nonon­sense as they come around oth­ers, when talk­ing to her horse or writ­ing letters home, Mat­tie is ev­ery bit the open range ro­man­tic, ex­pect­ing the kind of ad­ven­ture the old west­erns promised.

Though cen­turies apart, Mat­tie’s spirit is as en­dear­ing and in­deli­ble as 2010’s other em­bod­i­ment of tweenage pluck, Chloe Moretz’ Hit-Girl ( Kick-Ass)

Bridges and Da­mon are de­pend­ably strong. Much of the film’s hu­mour comes from their

Hailee Ste­in­feld and Jeff Bridges do right by the Old West an ad­ven­tur­ous and darkly comic western. bad­ger­ing of each other, Rooster the in­dig­nant drunk, LaBoeuf the cock­sure Texan.

The story is sur­pris­ingly sim­ple for the Coens, there is no sur­prise dou­ble-cross or con­vo­luted plot­ting, al­low­ing each of the rich char­ac­ters to re­veal them­selves nat­u­rally, in­clud­ing Barry Pep- per’s crack­pot em­bod­i­ment of Looney Tunes out­law Yosemite Sam.

At un­der two hours, True Grit re­sists the urge to go epic and leaves you want­ing more ad­ven­ture, more ban­ter and more beans cook­ing over an open fire. It de­mands re­peated view­ing.

The cow­boy way: in True Grit,

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