Berlin film festival 2011: Coen brothers True Grit opener not true to Coen

Article published on Feb. 11, 2011
community published
Article published on Feb. 11, 2011
Two tightly braided plaits, a razor-sharp mind and no fear of saying it like it is - Matti Riss is only fourteen years old but she is as strong-willed as an adult. You would be if your father had been shot by the bandit Tom Chaney. Time to do everything possible to be avenged.

Yes, the film is a western, or more specifically an adaptation of the 1969 original True Grit which scooped John Wayne his only Oscar. After the road movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) and the thriller No Country For Old Men (2007) the Coen brothers are back in the deserted vastness of the American landscape, which gifts the film its unique and wonderful western style.

True Grit is not a western in the classic sense of the word, but the film directs us to the traditional setting with trademarks such as a saloon, public hangings and dusty streets. Add to the mix a sophisticated accent and painstakingly researched costumes of the era, and it really feels like we are watching nineteenth century America live onscreen. The men and their laws rule in the praries. The avengers include characters such as the gruff US Marshal Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), who despite his sense of justice mostly shoots his enemies dead without a second thought, and the confident Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), who spends the film with his locks falling into his face.

The hunted are Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), Ned Pepper and his troupe. This includes a young girl (Hailee Steinfeld), a ballsy and decided character who you can always rely on to drag the corpses onto scaffolding. Hers is the young voiceover which holds up in stark comparison to her male co-stars, who have no other choice but to do as the girl dictates.

At one point even Tom Chaney is shot by Mattie for his arrogance. The strong and sometimes self-ironic and abnormal characters mix up the genre and help it break from the traditional western cliches. But the traditional stories are not spared from the viewer towards the end of the film: despite her courage, Mattie ends up kidnapped by Tom Chaney´s men and is only saved thanks to the selfless, fatherly character of Marshall Cogburn. The traditional world of the western amidst Indian territory is remanufactured.

True Grit is a coherent film with its grandiose landscapes, historically correct setting and exceptional characters. It has also been nominated for ten oscars, including for best film. However the Coen brothers have relinquished the crazy twists and escapades which usually mark their films by sticking to the adaptation for once. And thats a shame.

Christiane Loetsch