I should probably warn you that nothing that comes after this is goingto be very good.
Oh wait, I forgot about Monkey Thunderdome. Yeah, Monkey Thunderdome'spretty great. Especially last week's fight. It was kind of a cheat tobring in the fire-breathing bats when the rules clearly outlawattack-birds (a violation of the spirit, if not the letter), but whata display that was. Well hey, I thought I had nothing to talk about,and here we are reminiscing about the single greatest moment inanimal-gladiating history.
We all must feel pretty good right now. Then again, everyone'sperceptions are altered by our expectations, including those of us whoget paid to pretend otherwise. When I heard there was a new CoenBrothers movie, and that it was a Western starring Jeff Bridges assome bounty hunter guy with one eye, it was hard not to expectgreatness (it helped to remind myself there was a kid involved andit's PG-13). Instead, True Grit gave me pretty-goodness.
14-year-old Hailee Steinfeld's father has been killed by Josh Brolin,and no one seems to care. On the trip to town to handle her dad'sfuneral, she takes the opportunity to hire a U.S. Marshal to trackBrolin down.
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It takes some fast talking and 50 bucks to hire Jeff Bridges, amean and murderous drunk. But Texas Ranger Matt Damon wants Brolin forhimself--and with the criminal escaped to Indian territory, the trailwon't be easy to pick up.
Coen Brothers flicks are like that fungus on your back: they'll growon you. Normally, you watch one of their movies once and you're like"Sweet, that guy just shot that other guy right in the face, uh ohwhat's up with that wood chipper!" -- meanwhile, strange, dark things arehappening on the sidelines, stuff you might not pick up for the nextviewing or five. Every opening week review is just an initialimpression, but with the Coens, it can feel like more of aplaceholder.
How's that for ass-covering? Pretty coverful, I'd say. But that's whatyou have to do when you're preparing to call something starringBridges as a one-eyed, whiskey-swilling manhunter just "quite solid."
It goes without saying Bridges is great. Really, a cartoon chipmunkwith a perm would look studly in this role, but Bridges is just aboutperfect both for his past-his-prime physicality and his handling ofthe dry, hilarious dialogue. Except for the part where they'd neverhave become millionaire moviemakers, Joel and Ethan Coen clearlyregret not being born in the 19th century, and they exorcise many ofthose demons through the banter in True Grit.
Banter that would have been infinitely less great if Steinfeld weren'tso good. As a tough-talking but somewhat naive young girl, she somehowholds her own beside Bridges and Damon.
Her presence doesn't stop True Grit from getting brutish,either. When they find a corpse hanging from a high tree, Bridgessuggests it'll be worth money for someone. There's not much in the wayof violence, but when it arrives, it's swift, bloody, and as punishingas that one superhero who pays people back for their misdeeds. I thinkhis name is "Mr. Hurts the Bad Guys."
Yet the relationships between Bridges, Steinfeld and Damon nevercohere as sharply as you might want, and the climax feels somewhatrushed, too. Could be that's out of faithfulness to the book TrueGritis based on, or it could be the Coens aren't about buildingevery movie up to decide the fate of the world, including thatunderground world beneath the Earth's crust where us coolest people goto party every weekend. Still, it left me wanting more.
That's enough to reduce it from "instant classic" to "more than worthwatching": a well-acted, well-written movie with a sense of doomaround the next bend. Set expectations accordingly.