No matter which way you look at it, despite the fact that it seems nigh on impossible, the Coen brothers appear to be getting progressively better – like a pair of maturing cheeses if you will.
Now, while this may be a pungent Stilton too far for struggling film makers to stomach, it’s an absolute delight to behold for the rest of us. Twenty seven years ago they first indulged our lust for escapism with the deliciously dark Blood Simple, which they have since followed with the likes of Miller’s Crossing, Fargo, The Big Lebowski, O Brother, Where Art Thou? and lest us not forget the Oscarfest that was No Country For Old Men.
This is just to name a few. Of course, such persistent output isn’t entirely unheard of but what’s remarkable about the Coens is the outstanding quality to quantity ratio that they have nearly always managed to uphold. Very few film makers manage to achieve such astounding consistency, without fail, over such an extended period. Even the likes of Speilberg and Scorsese have made a stinker or two in their time. The Coens on the other hand… not really.
Think about it. Whenever you hear whispers of a new Coen brothers film making it’s way to the screen it almost always generates an unusually quantity of warranted excitement. Sure enough, this has been the no different with their most recent offering, True Grit. A straight (if we dare call a Coen film that) adaptation of Charles Portis’ fantastic 1968 novel and retelling of its 1969 feature namesake starring John “The Duke” Wayne in his one and only Oscar winning role; this version is much improved. Why? Well, by the time you read this you will no doubt have heard the rumours about the astonishing breakout performance delivered by young Hailee Steinfeld as the film’s female lead, Mattie Ross.
Marvelously woven and sensationally acted
Thirteen years old when filming took place and acting in her first ever feature, opposite Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon no less, the girl is an absolute revelation. Not only does she anchor the entire film with an incredibly mature, sincere and moving performance but astoundingly, she almost completely shoots the rootin’ tootin’ shit out of her two A list co-stars. Thankfully, this astonishing feat has not gone unnoticed, with the academy quite rightly giving her a Best Supporting Actress nod, which, unless the sun ceases to orbit the earth, she should really win.
Although, questions have even been raised, and rightly so, as to why she hasn’t been included amongst the best actress nominees given that she occupies almost every frame in the film. One can only assume however, that this is down probably down to the fact that old Oscar has already decreed Natalie Portman the sure bet in that category and wishes to give the young thesp extraordinaire a chance elsewhere. Nonetheless, with all this hype surrounding Steinfeld, it’s also imperative to point out that the performances from Bridges and Damon are not to be sniffed at, either.
Bridges is utterly superb as the grimy, booze rinsed, morally waylaid and discourse drawling Rooster Cogburn; a man with ‘true grit’. His cynical, world weary performance beautifully counter balances the self assured, naive certitude of Steinfeld’s and in doing so provides the unpredictably turbulent but wonderfully immersive central relationship at the films heart. Meanwhile, Matt “is there anything I can’t do?” Damon, again states his claim as one of the top gun actors of the moment with a brilliantly self depreciating turn as the hilarious LeBoeuf (pronounced Le Beef); a posturing, macho, spur totting Texas Ranger with an agenda. United via a common goal, these perfectly pitched performances present an increasingly fascinating triumvirate, which not only fuels the film’s narrative and provides a solid base for believable character development but also explores the broad spectrum of human behaviour, from its most cruel and ferocious to its kindest and most forgiving.
The impressively penned and persistently amusing script is also worthy of mention as at no point does it seem forced or ridiculous despite its blunt and often simple use of antiquated, poetic dialogue. This, again, is a testament to Joel and Ethan Coen, who must have thoroughly versed themselves in the language of the time before ever attempting to write a script in such a bold and potentially alienating manner. True Brit, Roger Deakins, now a long-time Coen collaborator, also delivers stunning beauty with his lavish cinematography of the bleak landscapes across which the story spans.
All in all, a marvelously woven and sensationally acted modern western masterpiece, which is as brutal and exciting as it is moving and remarkable from start to finish.