True Grit

The Coen Brothers are nothing if not unpredictable.  That’s most definitely a good thing as the directorial siblings have crafted a series of films most would be envious to have.  True Grit adds another coda to their distinguished resume with their idiosyncratic story-telling style fully in place.  More of a new interpretation of the novel by Charles Portis than a remake of the original John Wayne film it’s a great Westerner that should see the genre re-surge in popularity.

When hired help Tom (Josh Brolin) murders her father, Mattie (Hailee Steinfeld) aims to bring him to justice.  Enlisting the help of tough U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), she tries to ignore his uncouth ways and joins him on the quest.  Also assisted by mild mannered Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), their journey reveals the ‘true grit’ each has in charting the rugged terrain and of the deadly desperados daring to cross their path.

A reason why True Grit has been so well received is perhaps because of its simplicity.  There are no whiz bang effects here – just straight down the line story-telling filled with memorable characters.  Given the Coen Brothers have made a virtue of creating gregarious personas, True Grit fits them perfectly as Bridges’ and Steinfeld’s fine performances embody the toughness their characters need to survive wild conditions.  Similar in determined outlook but at the opposite end of years, both have healthy egos which spur them on in succeeding in their mission.

Being the mischief makers they are, the Coens slyly play with established Western conventions.  Whilst they follow the set structure making them so good, there’s knowingness at play with some moments bordering on parody.  No way does that make it bad – on the contrary – it makes for an engaging ride with some characters blurring the line between good and evil.  The striking cinematography ramp these elements up a notch with the orchestral score highlighting the lurking danger each face.

You can’t go wrong with a Coen Brothers film with True Grit yet another string to their fine bow.  A perfectly realised Western one doesn’t see often enough, it’s nice to know they haven’t lost their touch after a quarter of a century in an often unforgiving industry.

Rating out of 10:  8


The Dilemma

No one is infallible, not even Hollywood directors like Ron Howard.  Finding fame as an actor with Happy Days, his move into directing has seen a prestigious catalogue of movies.  Sadly The Dilemma is the least of his work, with Allan Loeb’s poorly written script ruining Howard’s perfect record.  Dull and terminally miscast, little can be recommended of this fallow tale as it wheezes its way to its final punch-line.

Ronny (Vince Vaughn) and Nick (Kevin James) are partners in an auto design firm.  Life-long friends, they tell each other anything.  This creed is put to the ultimate test when Ronny discovers Nick’s wife Geneva (Winona Ryder) is having an affair.  Confused as to whether he should tell his friend, Ronny tries to find the best way to break the news.  Also working on an important business deal which could make or break them, Ronny’s loyalty to his friend is stretched to its limits.

There’s nothing worse than seeing a film trying hard to be funny.  Comedy should arise naturally from situations, not forced which is something The Dilemma forgets.  Its biggest problem is its sparse premise which – stretched over nearly 2 hours – jumps the shark at its halfway point.  Although it has some interesting things to say about the nature of friendship and honesty, both the comedic and dramatic elements cancel each other out.  It’s too serious to be funny and yet too silly to be totally believable – it’s just a muddle of incidents looking for a cohesive story.

None of this is helped due to some weak casting with the terrible script highlighting their inadequacies.  Their mostly unlikeable characters make it very difficult to care about their plight with some hammy performances detracting from any messages it tries to impart.  Howard’s constant use of a hard-rock heavy soundtrack also quickly grates on the ear-drums becoming no substitute for clever plotting.  It’s as if his long career has finally blunted the directorial edge he had in early films such as Night Shift – a comedy light years ahead in originality compared to this ramshackle effort.

Everyone has their bad days, with The Dilemma a less than stellar Ron Howard production.  Had the balance between comedy and drama been perfected, there may have been something there – although this half-baked endeavour becomes a laborious chore for all concerned.

Rating out of 10:  2