Friday, December 24, 2010

True Grit (The Coen Brothers, 2010) -- C

I never thought I'd see the day where it would be possible to similarly compare a Coen Brothers film with The Blind Side, but that day is upon us. Losing nearly every shred of their irreverence, philosophically saturated dialogue, and even narrative coherence, the dynamic duo to rescue American cinema from the pits of middlebrow hell now themselves appear to be headed in that very direction. They have made a film that should appeal to the base of Christian conservative sects, capitalizing on the precocious nature of a 14-year-old girl named Mattie Ross (an unconvincingly mannered Hailee Steinfeld) and the squirrely old-man shtick of Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to allow all too simplistic renderings of intent and purpose, while relegating a significant portion of the dialogue to exposition and often meaningless bickering. Everything about the film is subpar for the Coens. The opening proverb, "The wicked flee when none pursueth," plays like a disingenuous afterthought of the rigorously labored A Serious Man. No sequences of dialogue hold significance beyond mere narrative and overwrought character establishment (particularly an early scene where Mattie barters with a man for the price of a few horses - we get she's a feisty one quickly enough, yet the Coens seem insistent upon inserting numerous scenes to showcase it). Fleeting attempts at moral/ethical issues briefly come about, but to no avail (specifically an exchange about the difference between God-given and socially constructed morality). By not probing the very issues raised, the filmmakers are pandering to their worst instincts, forgoing the harder, complex questions for moments of crowd-pleasing nonsense, including several last second gunshots to save main characters, a little prayer said before a "miracle" shot, and even a guiding cheer for the viewer in case he's too slow on the uptick. The closing epilogue is telling, as it haphazardly rushes to the final shot, where the credit for the Coens as writer/director comes and goes within seconds, a bafflingly shoddy conclusion to an even more puzzling concoction, conservative through and through, from these consistently uncompromising filmmakers.

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