True Grit follows the story of Mattie Ross, a 14 year old girl whose father was murdered by a farm hand named Tom Chaney. Mattie shows up to claim the body of her father for burial and at the same time hire someone to track down the killer. She crosses paths with Texas ranger LaBoeuf who is tracking Chaney for crimes committed in Texas as well as US Marshall “Rooster” Cogburn who she ultimately hires to hunt down and bring Chaney in. Since all parties have interest in Chaney, they reluctantly join forces with Mattie forcing in her own presence and participation where it’s not necessarily wanted.
One of the things I love is how the Coen brothers craft characters in their films. True Grit is just another great display of brilliant character exploration and development. The characters and the story immediately hooked me and kept me in my seat throughout the entire 90 minutes of the film. A big part of this was Jeff Bridges’ portrayal of Rooster Cogburn, which was absolutely amazing. Cogburn’s rough exterior, slovenly demeanor, tough as nails badass is endlessly fun to watch.
Matt Damon plays the ranger LaBoeuf with passion and skill. His flaws, confidence and pride flow seemlessly from moment to moment.
Josh Brolin is the killer Tom Chaney and isn’t seen nearly enough in here (my only real complaint about the film). Brolin continues to exhibit his great range filling the shoes of the dullard yet dangerous Chaney easily.
The one who almost steals the show here is Hailee Steinfeld who plays Mattie Ross. The girl is talented and it shows in the film as she could’ve easily been the weak link here vs. Bridges, Damon and Brolin but holds her own with the best of them. Her character is cocky and headstrong but not to a point where it gets on your nerves. She plays this character juuuuusssst right dancing on the edge of taking it too far without quite falling over the side.
The Coen’s screenplay of the Charles Portis novel is more online with the book than the first film that starred John Wayne (the only movie he won an Oscar for). I grew up with the first version and really loved it as a kid but have to say I think this latest version is actually stronger, which I found pleasantly surprising. The Coens do an excellent job steering the ship and guiding the passengers along the way.
True Grit is a great western with compelling characters and top-notch performances across the board, I highly encourage seeing it.
reviewed by Sean McKnight
Much as with mescal (the real tequila), you either like the Coen brothers movies or you don
Oliver Stone’s W offers a glimpse into the life of George W. Bush; more specifically, snippets of his life from his college days up to the middle of his first term as president. The storytelling of the film is told in non-chronological order with jumps forward and back in time throughout the entire movie. It takes a little getting used to, but once it sinks in as to what’s going on the movie gets easier to digest. Throughout the non-linear timeline there’s an underlying theme played out through W hanging out in an empty baseball stadium by himself with an imaginary announcer, crowd and game being played out in his head. This imagination game serves as the metaphor for the different time periods that are showcased during the course of W.
As I mentioned, things jump around a bit so while there’s not just one central thing to focus on, you do get a glimpse into some of W’s more historic moments. I’ve read a bit about Bush Jr. and found it interesting to see some of his more infamous moments brought to life. Among the moments brought to the big screen include Bush’s days at Yale when he first joins his fraternity as well as his days at Harvard discussing how he’s going to run for congress during a poker game. George Jr. spent some time bouncing from one job to another (all seemingly arranged by George Sr. who gets continually frustrated by Jr.’s inability to hold down a job) which is peppered across different points early in the film. We also get to witness some of the battles W fought with his drinking problems and his famous anger.
On and off from the start to finish of the film are featured moments in the white house during W’s meetings with the likes of Dick Cheyney, Condolezza Rice, Karl Rove, Donald Rumsfeld and Colin Powell among others. These meetings portray him as a bit of a tyrant being subtlety manipulated by those around him while still acting like he’s in charge. Most of the focus of the meetings center on Iraq and what’s going to become Iraq II. The exchanges and power struggles are interesting to watch, especially with Colin Powell as he seems to be the only person realistic about what’s going on and the only one who’s not bending over backwards to kiss the butt of W or manipulate him in some fashion. Karl Rove and Dick Cheyney seem to be the people running the show while W gleefully thinks he’s steering the ship with Rumsfeld along for the ride trying to justify his role as part of the white house staff.
While a bit challenging to follow at times, the overall storytelling done by Oliver Stone is put together effectively. Stone’s style and investigative tenacity lend themselves well to this project as they did in JFK. I always liked Stone’s directing style and while his work is recognizable visually, it’s fresh in each of his films.
The acting is excellent and the cast is made up of really strong actors including Josh Brolin as W, Richard Dreyfuss playing Dick Cheyney, Scott Glenn portraying Rumsfeld and an almost unrecognizable Thandie Newton filling the shoes of Condi Rice. The cast is rounded out by James Cromwell (playing Bush Sr. who some think he should’ve gotten an Oscar nod for), Bruce McGill (George Tenet), Jeffrey Wright (Colin Powell), Stacey Keach (Rev. Earle Hudd), Ellen Burstyn (Barbara Bush) and Elizabeth Banks as Laura Bush. There are other notable actors in the lineup but too many to mention. Suffice it to say that there’s not a weak link in the chain and all the actors put in compelling performances especially Josh Brolin, Richard Dreyfuss, Thandie Newton, Scott Glenn and James Cromwell.
Even though Oliver Stone does lend an interesting visual element to W as he does with all his films, the meat of this project lies within the intellectual exchanges between the characters (or lack thereof with Bush) and the performances with the actors. If you have an interest in politics and how things play out behind close doors in the white house (fictional or otherwise), W is worth a look.
reviewed by Sean McKnight