THE COENS’ TRUE GRIT: Punch, Drunk, Love
DAVID EDESTEIN: The Coens’ True Grit isn’t as momentous an event as you might hope, but once you adjust to its deliberate rhythms (it starts slowly), it’s a charming, deadpan Western comedy. It’s true that “charming” is an odd description for a picture with so much death and ghoulish imagery. But the Coens rarely get worked up about such things. Their gaze is steady, serene. Roger Deakins’s cinematography is beautifully deep-toned and austere; the compositions are clean even when the settings and characters are muddy. Hathaway shot the same old Arizona–New Mexico buttes we know from other John Wayne movies, but this True Grit is where it belongs, in high deserts and forests denuded by winter. Carter Burwell’s elegiac score is built on Christian spirituals, with a hint of Joplin’s piano rags to come. It’s all played straight—except when it comes to the actors. Bridges’s Rooster is half-hidden behind unruly facial hair, his cheeks reddened by burst blood vessels, his one unpatched eye bleary. The actor has lowered his voice, dropped it down into a pool of tobacco juice and phlegm, and the words that come out are only semi-recognizable. It takes a while to warm up to this anti-Duke, but the nice thing about Bridges is that he can wait. He catches you off guard with great Portis lines that Wayne threw away, like: “Your partner’s killed you, and I’ve done for him.” Matt Damon’s Texas Ranger LaBoeuf is a wonderful foil, with his ostentatious jangling spurs and fringed jacket and ridiculous pipe. He’s a preener, a kid playing dress-up, but damned if he doesn’t live up to his inflated self-image. Steinfeld is their straight man, and I came to like her prim little unsmiling face and Gatling-gun delivery. It must have been hard to keep from laughing in the scene when Mattie finally comes face to face with her father’s murderer, played by Josh Brolin as a bewildered troglodyte. What the hell is Brolin doing? I think I know. By this point in the film, he has to out-grotesque an army of grotesqueries to make Joel and Ethan laugh. MORE

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