Speaking of misleading trailers…
I know, I know, I didn’t mention the (mostly minor) trailer issues in The Other Guys, but I certainly will mention them here, because on True Grit, those issues mattered.
The Coen Brothers are famous for their propensity for telling stories in an unconventional fashion. Considering how hard studios push you towards the middle, until every studio film is perfectly cookie-cutter, it’s astonishing how far they’ve been able to stray from the norm. And if sometimes I’m not totally on board (I know I’m a contrarian, but I had very mixed feelings about how No Country For Old Men was structured), the highlights are strong enough that I’m willing to accept that when you take filmmaking risks, the results are sometimes uncomfortable for the average moviegoer.
That’s not nearly the case here – True Grit’s plot is exceptionally well laid-out – but in the Coen Brothers’ efforts to make the film’s story fit neatly into a trailer, it misleads the audience into thinking that the end of the movie is actually the middle, and gives away most of the climax. Boo. And don’t try telling me that I can’t blame the Coens for how a trailer was edited, as if they didn’t have control of that. These are the people who edit their own movies under a fake name. They’re gonna know how that trailer’s went together.
And weirdly, I feel like no one but me noticed. Part of the problem with the Coen Brothers is that whenever they land a hit like this one, critics and film buffs are reluctant to criticize any element of the story since someone will immediately retort, “but you see, that was the whole point of the film,” and then they’ll look like a dunderhead.
But the truth is, True Grit, like No Country For Old Men before it, ends with a whimper and not a bang (all right, all right, there’s a lot of guns involves, so technically it does kind of end with a bang). And truth be told, I wasn’t watching the screen for parts of it, because there were snakes involved. But there’s a number of ways to turn a story on its head, and their way never seems to make the viewer go “Ooooh.” Instead, we just go “Oh.”
The Coen Brothers are the Andy Reid of filmmakers. There’s no one better than them, up until the two-minute drill, and then they lose everything good that brought them to that point.
It’s a shame, because the movie that precedes the unremarkable ending is a very good one. Jeff Bridges is excellent and perfectly incoherent as Rooster Cogburn (no one could say he was aping John Wayne’s performance, because that was about as un-Waynian as it gets) and Hailee Steinfeld is much better actress at 13 than some people pulling in $5 million a picture (don’t make me call you out, Robert Pattinson. You know who you are). The gold star goes to Matt Damon, however, who I continue to maintain is considerably underrated as an actor, even as a movie star (go back and watch his roles in The Bourne Supremacy and The Informant! back-to-back. Then, try to name any actor who could pull off both roles as convincingly). He’s just as good here as he is in everything.
True Grit is worth seeing (especially if you’ve skipped the trailer), and deserving of all the Oscar love it’s getting, but maybe that’s more an indicator of the excellence of performance by its stars than a sign-off on the movie as a whole.