and sometimes poetry

True Grit (2010) | Review by Mark Leidner

Ten minutes into the Grit a strange tingling I had forgotten was possible began to creep across the surface of my cerebral cortex. It was the feeling of being absorbed into a story. Matt Damon’s face is beefier in True Grit than it is in most of his other movies, and somehow that made me like him even more. Jeff Bridges is much better hamming it up when he’s got the Coen Brothers writing his lines than whoever wrote whatever you call whatever that was in TRON: Legacy, may we never speak of it again. And Hailee Steinfeld is a little stiff at first, but the scene where she schools the horsetrader is sweet, and after that point early in the movie, you realize you’re in strong and capable hands. Sometimes the dialogue is so dialed up it tips too far into cartoon, but mostly it is a pleasurable listen. The archaic forms of expression and flowery verbal thrusts and parries of an age both less and more innocent kindles, by way of rich illustration, a fascination with how we all use language on our own long journeys through unknown territory to bluff and intimidate ourselves as much as anyone else. Dialogue in True Grit is the raging river, the thorny bramble, the snowy, moonlit plain at night through which honor and desire continually pass like heroes on horses, on their way to redemption, destruction, or both. Language the star in the East above the Coen Brothers’ cinematic manger.

Grit’s problems are few, not far between. The final showdown happens too quickly. One minute all is lost and our pigtailed protagonist seems doomed. The entire movie up to this point has been suspenseful, convincing, and well-paced. Five seconds later, conflict’s over. An imbalance of time invested in the chase of Josh Brolin’s grizzled criminal Tom Cheney, the film’s cible de la revanche, versus the time we spend with him and the other villains once we finally catch up to them, left me wanting more. The more that comes—a surprise oubliette opening moments after the villains are dispatched around our heroine—feels a little too necessary, dramatically-speaking, to compensate for the expeditiousness with which the sack of conflict we’d been waiting for was cinched in a brief puff of gunsmoke. Then the epilogue, which I found most disappointing, tidily voices-over the facts of these characters’ post-story lives in an uneven flash-forward that needed either more or less to figure integrally to the tale at this film’s core. But even these final missteps are made with such care and passion for the art of moviemaking that in the desert of neon nothingness that is the Cineplex at Christmas, True Grit glistens like an oasis of non-neon somethingness. Back in the day we used to call it storytelling.

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