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Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

    Cinematography, newcomer shine in ‘True Grit’


    True Grit– 3 out of 4 stars

    In Joel and Ethan Coen’s latest, “True Grit,” fourteen-year-old Arkansas native Mattie Ross (newcomer Hailee Steinfeld) is out for revenge after John Chaney (Josh Brolin) kills her father and flees.

    She enlists the help of Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to find his trail in the Choctaw Nation and bring him to justice. Along the way, they meet La Boeuf (Matt Damon), a Texas Ranger looking for Chaney for another crime.

    This year “True Grit” received the second-most Oscar nominations with ten, a mild surprise. I can vouch for it on Best Cinematography. Roger Deakins has worked with the Coens for years now and also filmed two of 2007’s best movies, “No Country for Old Men” and “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” both essentially Westerns too.

    Deakins shines in this with some beautiful open landscape shots carefully edited with slow fades, as if the Coens didn’t want the shots to end. Deakins also does a great job of highlighting the warm glow of indoor fire scenes contrasted with bright, snowy outdoor scenes. While Deakins’ work in “True Grit” is solid, it certainly isn’t his best work.

    It’s impressive to watch Hailee Steinfeld telling Jeff Bridges she’s sick of his “braggadocio” and calling him out on misspelling futile as “fudel.” Another scene shows the strength of the script, as a villain asks if Mattie is allied with Rooster and she tells him no because Rooster has “abandoned me to a congress of louts.” The script is solid, but Steinfeld deserves credit for her unassuming performance and easily nailing formal language difficult for most fourteen-year-old actors.

    One of the Coens’ main goals was to make a movie adaptation (John Wayne won an Oscar in the original) with greater fidelity to the original Charles Portis novel. The Coens are faithful to the source, as it’s clear this isn’t their typical dialogue.

    Any time a director sets out on a remake, they’re treading on dangerous turf. Many talented directors have failed. In fact, the last time the Coens put out a bad film is when they decided to remake “The Ladykillers.”

    Furthermore, tales of retribution are difficult to execute well. “The Godfather” stands the test of time because it does revenge exceptionally well. “True Grit” is solid, but it won’t rank among their best works as “No Country for Old Men” might.

    The movie ends on a somber tone with the narrator telling us, “time just gets away from us.” It has a similar tone to the Coens’ last film, “A Serious Man.” In that one, the message of the movie was summed up in the recurring Jefferson Airplane song: essentially, find someone to love because life is short.

    It’s clear the Coens are going for a straight Western, which is kind of disappointing. What makes the Coens so great is they eschew the status quo. Most of their movies don’t fit neatly into one genre at all, instead they almost always take a turn viewers don’t foresee. Unfortunately, the most bizarre and unexpected scene in the movie was prominent in every ad and trailer.

    Part of the mild disappointment has to do with the trailers and the sheer fact that the Coens have such a sterling reputation. The trailers were aided by Johnny Cash’s bleak and ominous song “God’s Gonna Cut You Down.” Images of a mean-looking Josh Brolin and Jeff Bridges shooting people with a cowboy hat and eye patch led to instant expectations for an epic Western. Instead, we’re given an unremarkable, but well-crafted, low-key Western.

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