Review: the Coen Brothers' True Grit

After considering the subject for several hours and maybe getting a little sleep, I have come to the conclusion that it would be difficult to do anything properly resembling a "normal" review of True Grit.  As far as the important questions go: it was a fantastic film, and you should see it.  That recommendation given, I am going to ignore my usual rule of no spoilers and talk about some of the things which I found most noticeable.

The dialogue is the first thing that strikes most people and sticks with them.  The "Western" accent underlies it, but there are remarkably few contractions; surprising, to me, is that this is apparently authentic to the era (some time after the Civil War).  In my contemplations, I was reminded of a friend from Ohio who speaks with a similar odd 'formality'; I had always put it down to a personal quirk, but now I wonder if an older tradition of speech – dialect? – survives somehow in scattered areas.

The thing I find most remarkable is the precise casting of the lead.  The character is supposed to be a fourteen-year-old girl, and is actually played by a fourteen-year old (Hailee Steinfeld).  While she does an excellent job, one thing makes it work, cinematically: she is tall.  By tall I mean my brain automatically registered here as "obviously a younger girl but has to be sixteen or seventeen" – until she declares her age, at which point the mind automatically adjusts everything to account for that fact.  Still, she is involved in serious business, and I feel the main reason the movie can carry its serious tone is because of her height: it makes her simply look old enough to be taking things seriously.  Without that, we end up with too much of a "cute" reaction to a small girl who ought to be out of her depth.  That would damage the tone.

The last thing to mention – and I think this may be a theme with the Coens, given some similarities in nature to O Brother, Where Art Though?, the only other film of theirs I have seen – is that an ending which seems altogether satisfactory is muted by the sudden introduction of continuing challenges.  In a film fitting neatly into a classic genre, the effect is jarring, as suddenly all the conventions begin to unravel.  That there is supposed to be a message, or at least a truth, communicated by this is clear; what that exact moral might be is less so.  It could be mere nihilism: whatever the moment may bring, it does not last.  But if that is the case, it is not a sufficient description: there seems to be an acceptance that the 'moment' matters anyway.

1 comment:

  1. The lack of contractions was the very first thing that jumped out at me, and it was delightful: the dialogue in True Grit is some of the least anachronistic I've ever heard in a period piece.