Once again the Coen Brothers set a standard for every other film to try and match. True Grit is every bit as brilliant as its reputation would suggest: the best western since Unforgiven and a central performance from Jeff Bridges that is twice as good as the one he secured an Oscar for last year (Crazy Heart).
Bridges plays irascible one-eyed Deputy Marshall Rooster Cogburn, a man with a reputation for shooting first and asking questions later, a man with a taste for whiskey and a distaste for authority. He is hired by spunky 14 year old Mattie Ross (astonishing newcomer Hailee Steinfeld) to hunt down Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), the man who killed her law abiding, decent, citizen father. Also, hunting Chaney for a huge Federal reward (that dwarfs Mattie’s small bounty) is suave Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) and soon the chase is on, into lawless Indian territory where the fugitive is holed up.
I said a couple of weeks ago that for a film to aspire to greatness it has to be about more than what its about. In No Country for Old Men they asked about the presence in the world of pure evil and what a good man could do about it (answer? not much). The under-appreciated A Serious Man was about religion and quantum physics and the different kinds of faith that enable both to exist. True Grit is also about goodness (discovered or rediscovered) but there is no pure evil to be encountered, just stupid, venal, selfish, brutality. The Coens have been called the most misanthropic filmmakers of our time and its no coincidence that in Cogburn’s Arkansas just about everybody is worth more dead than alive.
The brothers also give flesh to every tiny supporting character. Dakin Matthews, Jarlath Conroy, Ed Corbin and Candyce Hinkle may not be household names but they produce remarkable, memorable performances and the whole exercise is easily worth your time and your dollars. I’ll be back to see it again.
Matt Damon also features as narrator in documentary Inside Job, Charles Ferguson’s slow-boil investigation of the banking and finance crisis of 2007 and the subsequent damage done to millions of lives. While the irony of a multi-millionaire movie star giving lectures on the immorality of banking remuneration seems to have been lost on Ferguson, the film as a whole is an essential guide to the handbasket we are all in together and where we are going in it.
And in an election year it also behooves us to be reminded that Wall Street were systemically and culturally defined by avarice and corruption and that our current Prime Minister learned everything he knows there.
With two such strong contenders for your cinema dollar this week you can feel no remorse about swerving to avoid Wild Target, a lifeless remake of a French farce from 1993 about a hitman who discovers he has a heart of gold. Bill Nighy plays Victor Maynard, the best of the best supposedly, who inexplicably bails on a job to off pretty con-woman Emily Blunt. Into the mess stumbles Rupert Grint from the Harry Potter films and between them they wander around aimlessly looking for jokes – and not finding any.
Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 9 February, 2011.