True Grit - Cinema Review

'lengthy character development at the expense of concise insight... the film's one-hundred and ten minutes begin to feel stretched by the conclusion'

Unlike any Coen Brother's film before it, True Grit is ponderous, pedestrian even. Gone is the fast moving, often twisting narrative. In its place, a straight-up Western about retribution, redemption and probably a lot of other words beginning with 'r'.

Whether you like it, love it or loathe it might well depend on your current relationship (there's another 'r') with Joel and Ethan. If you're approaching this expecting a No Country For Old Men-esque, dark and focused morality tale exploring worldly themes of modernity and death then you're likely to be disappointed. Similarly, if you're looking for something with O Brother, Where Art Thou?'s lightness of touch then you're looking in the wrong place.

What you do get with True Grit is something much more reminiscent (Goddamn 'r's!) of old-style Westerns. The unlikely hero, Mattie (excellent newcomer Hailee Steinfeld), is flanked by two ambiguous compatriots in Jeff Bridges' Cogburn and Matt Damon's LaBouef. Which one of them can she trust? Which one of them can get her what she wants? What is it that she actually wants in the first place? Whilst the Coens don't necessarily deal absolute answers to these questions they do suggest ambiguous alternatives, keeping the slow story turning over as Mattie and co trek through the distinctly wintry wild west.

If the story doesn't move at regular Coen pace, the script often does. Mattie's early bartering with a town store trader is full of sharp dialogue and subtle wit, fulfilling the dual purpose of establishing Mattie's nous as a negotiator and enabling our ears to re-adjust - much like the opening scene in The Social Network - to the pitter-patter of the screenwriters.

This scene though, for all its good points, is representative of the film's painfully slow problems. Mattie's conversation with the trader runs on, and on, and on. When she returns to his office sometime later you half expect it to continue from where they left off. There's similar moments throughout. Cogburn, obviously lonely despite his rough exterior, confides in Mattie about his prior experiences as they trek onwards trying to find fugitive Tom Chaney (a largely wasted Josh Brolin). Rather than provide insight or entertainment though, this feels like filler. There's no revelation in what Cogburn says and little even of interest. It's lengthy character development at the expense of concise insight and True Grit's one-hundred and ten minutes begins to feel stretched by its conclusion.

What holds your attention is the three leads. Damon, under-appreciated next to Steinfeld and Bridges, is convincing as the unlikable LaBouef whilst the two Oscar-nominated actors predictably shine. Spare a thought too for Barry Pepper, still bearing the stigma of Battlefield: Earth but here outstanding as outlaw boss Ned.

Its by no means a failure but those wanting to experience True Grit's successes will have to put in effort to see them bear fruit and the final confrontation lacks the payoff of, say, Open Range, which went about a similarly slow story with greater brevity and tighter narrative control.

Look further...

'intelligent, adult film-making of the highest order. It reads like the best novel and looks like the finest painting' - Lost In The Multiplex, 9/10


  1. What hurt this film the most, in my opinion, is there is a moment of great disconnect. You wait nearly 90-100 minutes for the 'kidnapping' but the scene before it just doesn't seem to line up with the progression of the scene after it. The way the characters are portrayed felt less heroic than their final charges would lead us to believe.

  2. Yes, can see your point there and I know what you're referring to. That didn't jar with me as much as you're suggesting it did with you but there is a quick turnaround and I can see how anyone could disconnect at that point. My bigger problem was with the final charge(s) itself. They just weren't the punchy, dynamic, conclusion the film needed to make me appreciate it that bit more.

  3. It has its moments of inspiration, but I couldn't help myself keep on thinking that this could have been so much better with the talent involved. Good Review!

  4. Yes, I agree. There's a lot more they could have done with this and as it is they risk marginalising the really fine acting work they got from their cast.

  5. I thought this film was excellent, if a little distancing. It wasn't the slow pace but the language of the piece. It felt delliberately impenetrable but the dialogue did have a loquacious quality to it.

    I can't quite figure out if the ending is underwhelming or fitting.