Monday, February 7, 2011

"true grit" a true western

*Warning: Here be spoilers for True Grit.  Do not read the review if you do not want the movie ruined for you*

Some people may not consider the Old West to be Victorian in any aspect.  Why?
  1. Although tales of the Old West always take place in Victorian times (roughly 1837-1901, the reign of Queen Victoria), some people may not consider them truly Victorian because they don't take place in Victorian England. 
  2. The characters of the Old West are not really Victorian characters in a socially acceptable way.  They are, more often than not, nitty, gritty individuals scratching out a living in dangerous lands--not the gentlemen or women of London, who are more concerned with whitening the front stoop every morning or following socially accepted rules on wearing mourning clothes when a loved one dies. 
 I count the Old West as a part of the Victorian Era.  The U.S's focus on increased industrialization, a form of empire building by gradually taking over native peoples and bargaining for Alaska and other territories to improve their status as a nation, and technological developments in steam engines and the like, all of which were part of the story that is the Old West, share many similarities with Britain's own development at this time.  The Old West may not compare socially with Victorian England, but it had the same economic, political, and territorial goals in mind.

On Saturday night I went to see the Coen Brothers film True Grit, starring Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, and Hailee Steinfeld.  I had never seen the John Wayne original, so I had no idea what to expect.

There are a few things to be said about the movie.  It was a good Western.  The plot and characters were sound, the story did not revolve around the action portrayed in gunfights as it did on character development (which is what made Unforgiven such a great Western), and the ending resulted in how it normally does in Western's- the main character reached her goal, maybe sadder and wiser, but without regrets.

image source: MovieTrailers.com
The characters were realistic- Jeff Bridges as the alcoholic, trigger-happy U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn; Matt Damon as the boastful, proud, word-slinging Texas ranger LaBoeuf; and Josh Brolin as the outlaw Tom Chaney, the man who killed Mattie's father.  The only character who was larger-than-life, in my eyes, was Hailee Steinfeld, who played the headstrong 14-year-old Mattie Ross set on avenging her father's death. There is no way I could easily picture any 14-year-old as quick-talking, as demanding, and as insistent of her rights among the adults she continually runs into throughout the movie.  But she pulled it off with great acting- showing barely perceptible trembling when neither Cogburn nor LaBoeuf would do things her way, and being visibly, but silently, disturbed in the middle of firefights, or when Cogburn would not keep promises he made to others.

But it was not a great movie.  It was rather formulaic as Westerns go (here I have High Plains Drifter, The Outlaw Josey Wales, and Unforgiven)- the main character vows revenge on an outlaw who either killed someone close to them, or just deserves to die, they take a journey to find out where the person is, there are a few amazing gunfights, and the person reaches their goal.  Keep in mind that there are several other Western "formulas," such as the outlaw who seeks revenge against another outlaw or a bad lawman, or the reformed outlaw who avoids lawmen or others seeking revenge.

It wasn't breaking fresh ground in the genre.  Being a remake, it's hard to see how it could have broken fresh ground.  I was actually a bit disappointed when I found out that the Coen Brothers had made this movie, as it was completely unlike the many remarkable movies that they have made in the past. It was mediocre for a Coen Brothers movie.

If you like Westerns, this one won't disappoint.  But if you want to see something breaking the mold, try another movie.

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