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The Coen brothers remake this classic Western

True Grit: Rates a B-.
Courtesy photo

I really get excited when a new Coen brothers movie comes out. Yet, unlike other critics who seem to praise everything they do – I think they have just as many turkeys as epics. I didn’t like Ladykillers, The Man Who Wasn’t There, the unfunny comedy Untolerable Cruelty. It makes it all the stranger that they have such brilliant films – Raising Arizona, Big Lebowski, Fargo, A Serious Man, etc.

Critics are going to put this movie on their top 10 lists. It didn’t make mine.

Some will call it the best Western since Unforgiven (now that was a great movie).

I don’t think it’s as good as 3:10 to Yuma or Appaloosa. I’ll say that it’s the best Western this year.

In case you didn’t see the John Wayne original, or read the novel by Charles Portis, it’s the story of a U.S. Marshal helping a 14-year-old girl track down her father's murderer.

The film starts with a proverb that ended the first chapter of the book. That works so much better than the idiotic opening scene in A Serious Man (a good movie despite that scene).

John Wayne won his only Oscar playing Rooster Cogburn in the 1969 original. Jeff Bridges could win his second for the character, and he really shouldn’t. It’s a shame, because I’d take the Dude over the Duke anyday; but Bridges is kind of doing his Bad Blake character with an eye patch, and a mouthful of marbles. The cadence in his voice reminds me of Billy Bob in Slingblade.

For every critic that knocked Christian Bale for overacting in The Fighter, I wonder what they think of Bridges scenery-chewing in this part.

Matt Damon is good as a Texas Ranger.

Josh Brolin is excellent as the villain. He’s a weasel and a coward, but not an over-the-top bad guy.

The movie really belongs to the narrator, played by 13-year-old Hailee Steinfeld. This is simply the best performance by a child actor since another “Hailee” -- Haley Joel Osment in Sixth Sense. She made this film fun to watch (and she doesn’t normally speak with the accent). Give this li’l lady an Oscar nomination, and skip the one they want to give Bridges.

And please, let’s finally award Roger Deakins an Oscar for cinematography. He’s one of the best in the business.

There’s a scene where Hailee talks back to Damon that’s great. Another where she deals with a shady horse trader, that’s wonderfully written. We enjoy her character so much, it makes the last 15 minutes of the movie a powerful experience to watch.

It’s just a shame the rest of it isn’t as strong.

The Coen brothers feel they need to keep their quota of quirky characters, which worked well when we see a doctor in a bear suit ride up. It doesn’t work as well with a mentally challenged guy on a horse that always makes animal sounds. WTF?

There are a few humorous moments, like a hanging involving an Indian that wants to say a few last words. Instead of the Coens throwing in quirky characters, why not a few more humorous moments like that? They can work well in a serious drama, as they did in the wonderful Fargo and No Country For Old Men.

Often times in Coen films, there will be a scene I can’t figure out. In this, it was the little girl talking about her sister Victoria in one scene. In another scene she calls her sister Violet. Was that intentional? Are we to believe she lies, or says things, to get her way? Not sure.

I also couldn’t figure out why actor Barry Pepper was playing a character named Lucky Ned Pepper.

Overall, it was a good movie. I was just expecting more.