Directed by: Joel and Ethan Coen
Runtime: 110 minutes
Rated PG-13 for some intense sequences of western violence including disturbing images
REVIEW BY ELLIOTT MILLER
Okay, before we get down to this whole “review” part, I really need to address the MPAA’s rating system. I understand that it’s a subjective thing, and that more than one person partakes in the rating of the movie, so varying opinions are more than likely. However, at least a shred of consistency would be nice. When a movie has violence that isn’t graphic or terribly bloody, you give it a PG-13. When a movie has several scenes of bloody violence as filmed by the directors of “No Country for Old Men”, you give it an R rating. It’s that simple. “True Grit” has several scenes of violence that dropped my jaw coming from a PG-13 rating, and someone at the MPAA needs a stern talking-to.
Disregarding my rant, the actual film “True Grit” is a well made western/adaptation/remake as done by a very different Coen Brothers than we’re used to. The film lacks their signature weirdness and cheeky, cynical tone, and serves as an accessible, fun blockbuster. It doesn’t reinvent any wheels or do anything all that memorable, but it has a good script, excellent score and a central performance that is impressive to say the least.
The story centers around Mattie Ross, a 14-year-old girl whose father is brutally gunned down by an outlaw, and her attempts to bring him to justice. She hires a seasoned, often drunk U.S. Marshal, played by Jeff Bridges, to help her in her chase. Matt Damon comes along as well, playing a Texas Ranger with a history hunting and repeatedly losing the man Mattie is looking for. However entertaining and charismatatic Matt Damon’s performance is, he still ends up feeling mostly worthless in the scope of the film. The film centers around Mattie, and her portrayal by up-and-comer Hailee Steinfeld is absolutely riveting. She is a smart, likeable heroine, and Steinfeld was even younger than her character while filming the movie.
Despite the awesome pedigree the film brings, the final product feels often unfinished and unsatisfying, failing to really draw us in due to a lack of surprising developments in the plot and the overall brevity of the film. Jeff Bridges plays the drunken U.S. Marshal exceptionally well, but since most of the plot-driven and investigational dialogue is delivered by him, it doesn’t help that nearly half of what he says is completely indiscernible amongst his southern drawl, and that’s just when his character is sober. It’s a shame, because most of the dialogue of his that I caught was very sharply written.
The film also has something to say about how revenge does not pay, but also slams us over the head with it relentlessly in the final act through the combination of obvious symbolism and a truly extraneous epilogue, cementing the feeling that the film was somewhat dumbed down by the studio in order to be more accessible to wider audiences.
I don’t really blame the Coens for the disappointment that is “True Grit” as much as I blame the huge studios that obviously diminished a true work of art. Its PG-13 rating and overall simplicity help confirm such suspicions, but I don’t consider it a bad film. It’s often a quite good film, and is definitely worth a watch for Steinfeld’s performance and a riveting sequence towards the end, but don’t be surprised to feel a little left out in the cold.
***(out of four)
Elliott Miller reviews films for Digitale Stories and for Cardinal Newman High School’s Arts and Literary Magazine.