Throwing stuff at the internet to see what sticks
Thursday, December 30, 2010 M. Ovie Reviews: True Grit
My hook for these reviews, such as it is, is an almost complete ignorance of the source material when it comes to remakes and adaptations. When it comes to True Grit, however, I have let you down in that regard. No, I never saw the original version starring John Wayne, and I never read the novel by Charles Portis. I did, however, start to read my dad's hardcover copy once when I was younger than Mattie Ross, but the writing style annoyed me so much that I quit before the first chapter. So, you, know, I come to this totally spoiled.
Then there's the whole Coen brothers thing. As a Minnesotan, you might expect me to have a fraught relationship with Joel and Ethan going all the way back to Blood Simple, living my daily life surrounded by Fargo locations and running into the directors at the store all the time. Which isn't really the case, although it's fair to say I've developed a certain…mistrust of those two. It isn't that they aren't brilliant filmmakers, but I've walked away from too many of their movies thinking, Jeez, what was the point of that? They usually get away with it, but after rubbing our faces in it at the end of Burn After Reading, I can't believe I'm the only one who stayed away from A Serious Man for similar reasons.
But with True Grit being based on a classic novel, I figured it was safe. And so have a lot of other people, clearly. There's one recommendation I'd make: if you're going to see it, make sure you're seeing it in a theater with really good audio.
Because one spends a lot of time wondering what people just said. As Rooster Cogburn, Jeff Bridges apparently decided to lay the foundation for his performance as a man with true grit by gargling a bunch of it. The smooth, avuncular voice from the Hyundai and Duracell commercials is nowhere to be heard here. In the first half of the movie, I spent a lot of time wondering what he just said. Then, about halfway through, Matt Damon suffers a tongue injury, and then you can't understand half of what he just said. By the time Josh Brolin shows up, his "dumb-guy" voice practically sounds like that of a newsreader, not to mention Barry Pepper shouting his lines through a firehose of bad teeth and spittle.
Fortunately, there's the crystal-clear elocution of Hailee Steinfeld as the aforementioned Mattie Ross, who is allegedly 14 years old but looks that way primarily because she wears Laura Ingalls' hairstyle under Shaquille O'Neal's cowboy hat. It is she who drives the action of the film, not only because it is her quest that puts events in motion but because with everyone else's diction issues, sometimes it feels like you're only listening to her end of a telephone conversation.
It's a shame, because the dialogue is fantastic. It sounds just formal and florid enough to seem dated, almost like the first draft of a Deadwood script written by a Mormon.
Overall, I liked it. It's a solid adaptation, featuring plenty of Coen-style randomness without as much of their nihilism. As for the speech problems, they were nothing compared to those of the lead character of the movie I saw the following night. posted by M. Giant 8:39 PM 1 comments
I knew the damn horse was doomed the minute she gave it a name. Ruined the whole movie for me, waiting for it to die a ghastly tormented death. As it did.