True Grit – I was really excited to see what the Coen Bros. would do with a remake of the 1969 John Wayne film True Grit (itself based on the Charles Portis novel). Maybe I was too excited, because while I liked the film, I wasn’t blown away by it and don’t see what all the hype is about. The story follows young girl Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) as she tries to hire a bounty hunter to find the man who killed her daddy. She finds Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), someone she is told has “true grit”, and soon they are on the hunt together.
Steinfeld was deservedly named Best Supporting Actress by the Toronto Film Critics Association earlier this month, and she really is the best thing about the film, turning in a kick-ass emotional and powerful role. Bridges was better in TRON: Legacy though, and appears to be bored with the material here (or just bored with himself). Same with Matt Damon, who plays LaBoeuf, another bounty hunter that joins Ross and Cogburn. Sure he beefed up for the part, but I found his presence annoying and misused.
If the Coen Bros. weren’t attached to True Grit I can’t see it getting the praise it has been getting. It’s too safe for them and never pushes the boundaries of the genre. I wanted a gritty western and instead got something closer to The Lone Ranger. A better example of a recent western that is worthwhile viewing is 3:10 to Yuma (2007). It had great performances, used the genre to it’s full potential, and exceeded all expectations. I’d recommend watching it this weekend and waiting for True Grit to hit DVD. *** out of 5 stars.
Barney’s Version – Paul Giamatti delivers an excellent performance as the hard drinking, cigar-smoking, over-sexed Montrealer Barney Panofsky. Based on Mordecai Richler’s novel, this is sacred material and director Richard J. Lewis has done a fine job bringing it to the big screen. The rest of the cast, which also includes Dustin Hoffman, Scott Speedman, Minnie Driver, and Rosamund Pike, are all in top form and make this one of the most enjoyable films of the year. **** out of 5 stars. Opening in Toronto and Montreal.
Also opening this week is Little Fockers, the third part in the Meet the Parents series, and Jack Black’s 3-D family adventure Gulliver’s Travel.