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'True Grit' is a great Coens film

Published January 06. 2011 05:00PM

It's another Coen Brothers' classic and a western, to boot.

Writers-Directors Ethan and Joel Coen have made a classic western or, rather, remade, a classic western, "True Grit."

The Coens' film stands alone, and, as with their best, is one that can be appreciated again and again.

t's not the first time the Coens have remade a cinematic classic. Their "Ladykillers" (2004) was a remake of the 1955 British classic that starred Alec Guinness and Peter Sellers.

The Coens' "True Grit" is a remake of the 1969 film directed by Henry Hathaway that starred John Wayne as Reuben J. "Rooster" Cogburn. The character reappeared in "Rooster Cogburn" (1975), in which Wayne co-starred with Katharine Hepburn.

The "True Grit" remake is, as with the original, based on the Charles Portis novel. Here, Jeff Bridges plays Cogburn, a U.S. Marshal hired by a teen-ager to track down her father's killer, who has fled to so-called Indian Territory.

Bridges (actor Oscar winner "Crazy Heart") speaks in a barely understandable gruff, avuncular, lower-register. He seems to be having great time with the role, which calls for him to be pickled as a marshal, whose excessive drinking seems to overwhelm his judgment. He's great in the role.

Matt Damon is again a revelation, almost unrecognizable as LaBeouf, a Texas Ranger.

Josh Brolin looms large as Tom Chaney, the man of the manhunt Cogburn and LeBeouf lead.

It's actor Hailee Steinfeld, in her theatrical feature film debut, as Mattie Ross, the teen who hires Cogburn, who owns the film. She has incredible presence and intonation as a matter-of-fact avenging angel.

One realizes how important Steinfeld is to the "True Grit" remake when, during the denouement of the voiceover narration that bookends the film, Mattie is shown as an adult woman (Elizabeth Marvel). It's a letdown.

The Coens (Oscar winners for "No Country for Old Men," 2007) direct "True Grit" in their often formalistic style, framing each shot carefully, keeping dialogue scenes evenly-paced, yet willing to introduce shocking elements with quick edits and extreme camera angles.

There are many Coens' touches, not the least of which are extremely odd-looking persons in supporting roles. The Coens' knack for creating amusement from straight-forward dialogue is in force. And their visual puns, as when what appears to be a bear on horseback rides toward Rooster and Hattie, are ever-present.

Director of Photography Roger Deakins knows just where to place the camera, whether actors are in close up or small figures against a vast western landscape.

The mood of foreboding is also enhanced by a simple score by Carter Burwell that recalls the plain music of a Ken Burns' documentary.

Additionally, the architectural and costuming details of the film are impressive and seemingly accurate.

Look for multiple Oscar nominations for "True Grit," including director, adapted screenplay, cinematography (Deakins), best actor (Bridges), supporting actor (Damon) and actress (Steinfeld).

"True Grit" is a morality play, as are many of the Coens' films. "There's nothing free, but the grace of God," it's stated.

The Coens' "True Grit" is an allegory for the world of warfare. There were bad guys aplenty in the western frontier. The good guys were better not perfect but better. Their courage, their testing under fire, their "True Grit," pulled them and us through.

"True Grit," MPAA Rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13) for some intense sequences of western violence including disturbing images; Genre: Adventure, Drama, Western; Run time: 1 hr., 50 min.; Distributed by Paramount Pictures.

Credit Readers Anonymous: Iris DeMent sings "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms" during "True Grit" end-credits.

Box Office, Dec. 31: "Little Fockers" proved big at the box office, No. 1 two weeks in a row, $26.3 million and $103.1 million, two weeks. "True Grit" was close behind, No. 2 for a second week, $24.5 million, $86.7 million, two weeks.

3. "Tron: Legacy," $18.3 million, again at No. 3, $130.8 million, three weeks; 4. "Yogi Bear," $13 million, up from No. 5, $66.1 million, three weeks; 5. "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader," $10.5 million, $87.1 million, four weeks; 6. "Tangled," $10 million, up from No. 9, $168 million, six weeks; 7. "The Fighter," $10 million, $46.3 million, four weeks; 8. "Gulliver's Travels," $9.1 million, $27.2 million, two weeks; 9. "Black Swan," $8.4 million, $47.3 million, five weeks; "The King's Speech," $7.6 million, $22.8 million, six weeks.

Still Playing: "Black Swan," Jan. 5, 6, Civic Theatre of Allentown 19th Street Film Series.

Unreel, Jan. 7: "Season of the Witch," MPAA PG-13: Nicolas Cage stars as a 14th-century crusader who brings an alleged witch (Claire Foy) to a monastery, where it's hoped an exorcism will end the Black Plague.

Read previous movie reviews at Email Paul Willistein at: pwillistein and on Facebook.

Four Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes

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