24 January 2011

No Country for Young Girls

2011 has been a good year for free film previews, so far. As well as the frothy but fun Morning Glory, the unnecessary duplicative Next Three Days and the 'armful 127 Hours, I've also fitted in trips to see The Fighter and, most recently, True Grit. Although I wanted to have seen both of the latter two, I wasn't convinced that either was my kind of film. I was, however, pleasantly surprised.

Christian Bale's acting in The Fighter is superb; he plays a former champion fighter who is now a bit of a ne'er do well (sleeps around, does crack, is generally unreliable) but also coaches his younger brother, Mark Wahlberg. With some good turns from Melissa Leo, playing the brothers' Mommie Dearest, and Amy Adams as the Mark Wahlberg character's tough girlfriend, it didn't even matter that I don't like boxing and don't really have any interest in finding out more. The movie trope about the two brothers and their relationship that proves more complex than a first glance might reveal is, by now, hackneyed but there was great chemistry between Bale and Wahlberg. This film is really Wahlberg's baby (he is also credited as a producer) but it's Bale who is strangely mesmerising as the painfully lean, tough-talking, screw up, who turns out to be surprisingly loyal--and three-dimensional.

I'm wary of Coen brothers films (I loved Fargo, quite liked The Big Lebowski, thought that No Country for Old Men and Burn after Reading were OK, and didn't enjoy Intolerable Cruelty, so I'm about evens) and I'm wary of Westerns but I do like Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon so I figured there was a moderate to good chance that I would enjoy True Grit. And I really did, despite falling asleep for about five minutes during one of the biggest action sequences (this was an indication of my tiredness and not the quality of the film). Jeff Bridges was about 90% incomprehensible as the drunkard US marshal hired by a 14-year-old girl to hunt down the guy who killed her dad. Matt Damon plays a Texas ranger who comes along to help--but only because he gets his bounty if the aforementioned dad-killer is executed in Texas and not Arkansas.

The script was taut and there were plenty of funny lines, particularly when the marshal and the ranger were bantering back forth and--more frequently--when they were being bested by the smart-talking girl. True Grit tells a nice tale that is neatly wrapped up and without too many needlessly quirky deviations (there are a few more slapstick comedy moments as well as the ubiquitous oneupmanship). This remake could have gone so badly wrong and while I haven't seen the original, I give True Grit a hearty thumbs up. This means that I will almost certainly hate the next Coen brothers movie.

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