Thursday, January 13, 2011

Grittier than ever

I finally took myself to see True Grit, the Coens’ latest and another example of their mastery of yet another genre of filmmaking, the tried and true Western. I was expecting True Grit, while keeping mainly to the authenticity of Charles Portis’s book (the original movie, 1969, starred John Wayne as Marshall “Rooster” Cogburn and Glen Campbell as La Boeuf) to carry a pall of the dark humour the co-directing brothers are so famous for. The surprise is there is no irony. This is a genuine Western and done as well as any great Western prior to this. Jeff Bridges is in a logical extension of his role as The Dude in the Coens’ The Big Lebowski (1998) as the gnarly, grizzled Cogburn, hired by 14-year-old Mattie Ross (played by the stunningly-talented Hailee Steinfeld) to track down Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), her father's murderer. As with all Coen period movies, there is exactingness to the filmmaking, with authentic (if at times not always understandable!) 19th Century dialogue (amazingly stilted and formal even for the roughest characters) to costumes and sets. (Most of the film was shot in central Texas). Bridges is terrific slipping effortlessly into what seems a difficult role requiring personal toughness, alcoholic debauchery, and archaic speech. But the standout is Steinfeld, whose sense of conviction, ethics and intelligence, would be impressive in an adult, let alone a young teen....If mass audiences haven’t discovered the offbeat Coens (No Country for Old Men, Fargo, A Serious Man, Barton Fink, Miller’s Crossing) before this, they have now. The film is number one at the US box office, though probably a lot of paying customers are going for the sake of seeing a remake of the John Wayne classic (d. Henry Hathaway) not for the latest film from Joel and Ethan, the smart-aleck edgy ironists.

And I have started to watch all of the Sixties-era James Bond movies beginning with 1962’s Dr. No. – which could parlay into me watching all of the Bond movies, period. Sean Connery of course is in this Terence Young-directed first of the Ian Fleming classics, which hopefully will have a franchise that will go on and on forever. Also on board is Sixties sex symbol Ursula Andress in her most famous scene, emerging in white bikini from the Caribbean surf. It’s been a long time since I saw this and I was surprised that the film held together as well as it did. Often in Sixties comedy-dramas there are huge gaps in the plot and certain elements of disbelief that filmmakers couldn’t get away with nowadays. But the movie - given that Bond films require an imaginative leap anyway - moves along well, with wonderful shots of an early-1960s Jamaica that paints an elegant and sophisticated island paradise. A surprise was the absence of many special effects. Those are saved for last, unlike the last few Bonds which seem all over-the-top action and threadbare plot.

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