Sunday, January 02, 2011

Impressively Tidy Grit

True Grit is winning big in the holiday box office. I suppose that's right just. It's a magnificently conventional little action movie whose humble make-up is the best thing going for it. It seems strange to me these days when movies like True Grit garner year-end placement and Oscar buzz. Grit's perfectly economic nature reminded me of all the yay-sayers that surrounded David Chronenberg's last picture, Eastern Promises, which, like True Grit now, was nearly flawless in its resemblance of a 1940s B-movie.

There's nothing unnecessary in True Grit; each shooting, hanging and precautionary ritual lend to the formulaic unfolding of a beautifully generic western narrative. The cast is selected for their legible faces (drunk and gruff Jeff Bridges; mean Josh Brolin; paunce-y Matt Damon) and they perform their perfunctory star roles well, before the hungry eyes of the excitable newcomer, miss Hailee Steinfeld. As many critics have observed, Grit lifts its fantastic childlike wonderment more from Night of the Hunter than the original John Wayne vehicle. The closing, star-filled nighttime race is almost directly transferred from Laughton's Manichean masterpiece (in a feat of nice-timing, that film was recently given the prestige treatment of a Criterion release) while the haunting dirge that Mitchum's menacing preacher sings over and over tramples onto the Cohen brothers' soundtrack by way of lush Hollywood orchestration. This youthful quality complicates the movie's M.O. in some delightfully surprising ways - since Steinfeld's Mattie Ross is fourteen, her bloodthirst is not as quelled by anger or the explicit finitudes of murder (which is to say, Mattie's vengeance feels more robust). She lusts for retribution with wide-eyes, as opposed to the standard carnal tunnel vision.

It's beautiful, thrilling and none-too nihilistic, which is to say, the Cohens kept the hands on their holsters for much of the movie - and thankfully. Oh there's some requisite snark thrown mostly by Bridge's Rooster, but the Cohens' have taken an amiable step to produce a taut little flick that's not some fatuous Oscar-flavored allegory, but a rather straight-faced adventure, a well-cleaved tale that's more Goonies than Unforgiven.


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