True Grit (2010)
This 2010 remake of the famed John Wayne western adapted/directed by Joel and Ethan Coen brings to mind Miller’s Crossing (1990), their Prohibition era gangster drama starring Gabriel Byrne. Unlike most other Coen brothers films, it’s w/o any irony; the viewer needs to take it seriously. But there is some humor here. It took a few minutes to get used to the style of speech used, but I found it quite engaging. The cinematography is just terrific!
The protagonist, 14 y.o. Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), travels from her family ranch to a small, unnamed town to collect the body of her dead father. She explains that he was murdered by Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), a former employee who stole her father’s horse and two California gold pieces. Then Chaney fled deep into Indian territory.
Mattie, a smart/tough kid beyond her years, seeks out Deputy Marshall Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn (Jeff Bridges, one of my favorite actors), b/c she learns that he has “true grit.” She raises the money to hire him by bargaining w/ a horse trader (Dakin Matthews). But Marshall Cogburn is NOT your prototypical white knight; he’s scruffy, out of shape, cranky, and VERY fond of whiskey.
This mismatched pair is joined by a cocky/talkative Texas Ranger, LaBoeuf (Matt Damon, who gives an understated performance), who wants to capture Chaney and take him back to the Lone Star state for crimes he committed there against a state senator. Mattie wants to kill Chaney to revenge her father. Though they were both fought for the South in the Civil War, Cogburn and LaBoeuf DO NOT hit it off.
This is one film that truly needed a remake; the 1969 version had some good action, but it wasn’t outstanding when it came to acting. I have to admit, it was a BIT difficult to figure out what Bridges was saying in a few scenes. His performance was VERY different from that of Wayne.
Steinfeld’s Mattie is a HUGE improvement over Kim Darby. To begin with, Darby was TOO old for the role of Mattie. And we mustn’t forget that annoying voice!
Also, b/c of Darby’s feminine Mattie, there was romantic tension between her and Glen Campbell, who (badly) acted the role of LaBoeuf. Aside from examples like Chris Kristofferson and Dolly Parton, most country singers are NOT capable actors. Not sure why SO many of them keep trying…
Winter’s Bone (2010)
Another unflinching teen girl, Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence), is the main character in Winter’s Bone, a small budget indie set deep in the poverty-stricken Ozark Mountains. (The film was shot on location is Missouri.) 17 y.o. Ree single-handedly raises her 6 y.o. sister Ashlee and 12 y.o. brother Sonny. She is close friends w/ Gail, a new mother who’s married to a chauvinistic young man. She is loving, yet tough when she needs to be.
Her absent father is out on bail, but the family doesn’t know his exact location. He cooked meth (common in their tight-knit community); her mother became catatonic a few years back, unable to deal w/ the circumstances/pain of her life.
One day, Sheriff Baskin (Garrett Dillahunt) tells Ree that if her father doesn’t show up for his court date, they will lose the house because it was put up as part of his bond. Ree sets out to find her father, entering a world of meth, violence, and secrecy. She starts with her meth-addicted uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes) and continues on to more distant relatives. She even gathers the courage to reach out to the local crime leader, Thump Milton. He refuses to even see her, sending his wife and other females out to warn her to leave the situation alone.
You will quickly be drawn into the (often unseen) world of this film. Many critics have commented on its feminist viewpoint. Also, we usually don’t see rural poverty depicted in such a natural way. Lawrence does a SUPERB job; I can’t recall seeing a character quite like this before! As I was watching Winter’s Bone, I kept thinking that a girl like Ree should be studying, planning for her adult life (job/college), and anticipating the senior prom. But some girls’ lives are NOT so easy.