Last night PJ and I saw the Coen brothers’ new movie, True Grit. This movie, based on the novel, is technically a remake of the John Wayne classic. I have a healthy respect for the original film, and I love several of the Coen brothers’ movies, especially Fargo, Blood Simple, and No Country for Old Men. Here’s the trailer:

Hailee Steinfeld plays Mattie Ross, a 14-year-old whose father has been murdered by Tom Chaney. She wants justice, so she hired Rooster Cogburn, a U.S. Marshall, to track him down and bring him back for trial. Jeff Bridges plays Cogburn, also known as the part for which John Wayne won his Oscar. Matt Damon plays LaBeouf, a Texas Ranger who teams up with Cogburn for this job.

A few things stand out about this film. First, Steinfeld is excellent as Ross. She plays the character’s precociousness just right. Ross is intelligent and thinks she knows everything. This “adventure” will prove otherwise. Steinfeld is likely to receive an Oscar nomination for support actress, which is silly, since hers is a lead role. I don’t understand why critics and awards groups go along with the fiction that child actors are de facto supporting performers. Why not just have a separate category for best juvenile performance? Or better yet, why not put them in their real category? If she wins, it will be at the expense of someone who deserves the supporting Oscar — like Annette Bening for her role in The Kids Are All Right — oh, wait … I forgot … she’s in the leading category even though her role is a supporting one ….

I also loved the cinematography of this film. Roger Deakins is the Director of Photography. He deserves to win an Oscar for this film. It is beautifully shot. He’s been nominated eight times. Maybe this will finally be his year.

And finally, I really like the sense of realism that the Coen brothers bring to this film. When I compare it to the 1969 film, I think this one gives us a better sense of what it might have been like to have lived in the wild west at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries.

But ultimately, I found this movie to be disappointing. I’m not sure what exactly, but something seems to be missing. One problem I had with it is whether it’s trying to be a comedy or a drama. It doesn’t feel like a smart combination of the two; it just seems confused. Matt Damon, for example, seems to be in a comedy (I found his performance oddly irritating — “oddly,” since I usually love everything he does), while most of the action seems to be emulating a late nineteenth century naturalist novel.

And Bridges is never going to be the Duke. That’s a losing battle to begin with. But he doesn’t really make the part his own. For me, Cogburn never seemed more than a caricature. He doesn’t seem three-dimensional, not in the same way that Steinfeld’s Ross is — she really does out act both of her more established (and Oscar-winning) co-stars, I think.

So, this is a mixed one for me. I can’t say that I enjoyed it exactly, but I also didn’t hate it. I can see why the Gold Globes shunned it. But I can also see why some aspects of the movie should be nominated for awards. To quote Randy Jackson, “It was pitchy for me.”

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