True Grit is a camping story for the Twilight addled tween. It takes the Cohens to make a Christmas Carol from the Western genre. The wild west it seems, is not dead. It merely rode off into irrelevance until the Cohen brothers attempt to rescue and resuscitate it as a Victorian (and Dickensian) novel.
Various filmmakers have attempted to revive the flagging (John Ford) western over the years. The Spaghetti genres were the most popular, and then there was the late Clint Eastwood (Unforgiven) and Kevin Costner (Dances With Wolves) varieties that attempted to repackage old themes, There were the Bruce Lee (and JAckie Chan) westerns that packaged the way of the lone gunslinger into the Bushido, and the way of the lone warrior, Jackie still suffers from gasps of fresh air from this genre(Forbidden Kingdom, Around the world in 80 days) and then there are spoofs that pay homage to it(Sukiyaki western Django, Kill Bill , Quick gun Murugan) so it was only a matter of time before the original purveruors of the ultimate western revival ( Millers Crossing, No Country for Old Men , Oh Brother Where art thou) stop the teasing with the genre and made the damn film, already.
The thing is, the Minnesota born film geek brothers have a Midwestern headstrong-ness about hallmark card authenticity and caramelized candywrapper versions of genre history that instead of owning the story in this remake of the 1969 John wayne Glen campbell western (which they would have done the way they took over Oh Brother Where art thou..or Fargo) they end up creating something George Lucas’s overweight daughter can hang , well framed on her Skywalker ranch Basement walls.
The film, in other words is an idealization of the schoolchild adventure novel – the kind American parents foisted on their kids because reading British made them more cultured(Dickens, Stevenson Edgar Rice Burroughs and their american knockoffs like Jack London) .
While that alone does not hang the Cohen Bros, The Makers of Ubercool (Fargo, Lebowski, No country for old men) show symptoms of the onset of senescence by exhibiting all the classic signs. They’ve abandoned biting sarcasm in favor of a dying gasp at visual authenticity NOT replicated in the character arcs that created Mattie Ross(the fourteen year old avenger of her father) I’m not complaining that she’s not hard enough only that she’s a schoolchild adventure hero. and that no one else seems to matter in this film , which seems to be focus grouped with just George’s aformentioned Daughter.
Its a pitiable scene watiching Substantials as Jeff bridges and Josh Brolin , Matt damon (as the overweight texas ranger) and others being reduced to mere footnotes to the history lesson said in parkinsons addled schoolchiledese from talents that once produced Raising Arizona and Millers Crossing. Whatever they’re feeding them at the Sky walker ranch is having the effect of softening the Cohen brains.
All is not lost in this Luke sky walker finds daddy’s killer Journey of the hero. Even if the end feels tacked on as if by budgetary considerations, the film attempts bravely to recreate the milieu that included Chinese shop owners and Indian store keepers . It focusses doggedly on the revenge and retribution story without getting stuck in post Civil war politics too deeply, even as it hints at Rooster cogburn’s Antecedents. Mattie ross comes across as an authentic cross between the midwestern bedroom community highschooler and the mountain/ plain upper northwestern bible homeschooler , full of intellectual curiosity and a sheltered innocence itching for a fight with her enemies.
The film dies at the concept stage itself, though because there’s no steam left to take it to the lack of message that has been the hallmark of Cohen brothers films in the past. You DO need a Good triumphs over evil message in an adventure novel. The Cohen conversion to faith (from irony) is demonstrated as having kieerkegaardian chasms.
So much for the christmas carol.