Greetings again from the darkness. Just back from a Dallas screening of the Coen Brothers latest, and once again I am in awe of their filmmaking proficiency. For those concerned about a remake of the John Wayne classic, fear not! Joel and Ethan instead remain true to the Charles Portis novel. In fact, the Portis prose is what adds the uniqueness to this story of revenge.
One may assume that Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn would dominate the movie, but I suggest to you that relative newcomer Hailee Steinfeld (as Mattie Ross) more than holds her own, and in fact, often carries the story. We never once doubt her commitment to the cause … hunting down the man who shot her father. That man, Tom Chaney, is played in a most peculiar manner by Josh Brolin. Brolin’s dim-witted Chaney borders on a cartoon character, except he has a real mean streak.
There are so many wonderful touches in this film that I am not sure where to start. Obviously, the Portis dialogue jumps out immediately. Watching the grizzled, grungy cowpokes and this 14 year-old farm girl spout off such beautiful prose forces a smile to your face. It is an enjoyable challenge just to keep up with the banter between Cogburn, Mattie and LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), a Texas Ranger who also happens to be hunting Chaney. There are also hilarious exchanges between Mattie and a local horse trader, and later Barry Pepper (as Ned Pepper) joins in with some top notch verbal sparring.
DP Roger Deakins does his thing with the camera and landscape. We feel we are right there on the dusty trail or on a snowy ride. The wardrobe, guns and town all come across as totally authentic and add to the richness of the film. There are no hokey vista shots without purpose. Everything in the film has a reason and contributes to the cause of presenting a terrific western story of revenge and retribution. Watching the bond develop between the main characters is quite moving, and though I wasn’t ready for it to end, I found the ending quite satisfying.
The trailer for this film is one of my favorites of the year. Johnny Cash singing “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” is not in the film, but it certainly set the mood. So, no real surprise here, but another fantastic film from the Coen Brothers. You don’t have to be a lover of westerns to enjoy this one and, please, no worries about Jeff Bridges facing off against John Wayne. There is room for both!
SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you can appreciate the blend of sparse landscape, gruff cowboys and beautifully written dialogue OR you just want to see Matt Damon uphold the Coen Brothers tradition of one atrocious haircut per film.
SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you believe no one can top John Wayne, by golly OR you prefer your westerns to be only dark and bleak in the vein of Unforgiven.