Tag Archives: Joel Coen

“I can do nothing for you, son.”

I feel like the Coen Brothers making great movies is one of the few constants in my life. That, along with death (although I’m not throwing in the towel on that one), taxes, and vacation constipation. Sure, every now and then they throw a Burn After Reading at us. But they make up for it with a Big Lebowski, a Fargo, and a No Country for Old Men. Yes, what a time to be alive.

And before you ask, you can go ahead and add True Grit to the pantheon of Coen favorites. As the last film I’ll see at the movies in 2010, it more than made up for the bitter disappointments the year opened with, with films like Daybreakers and Legion kicking me in the balls and leaving me curled in the fetal position.

The film — the second adaptation of the 1968 Charles Portis novel — is narrated by Mattie Ross, a 14-year old girl whose father was murdered at the hands of outlaw Tom Chaney. After some questioning around town, Mattie seeks out Rooster Cogburn, whom she believes possesses the titular true grit to track Chaney down and bring him to justice. Accompanying them on their trek is Texas Ranger La Boeuf, who’s after Chaney for separate crimes. Together, the three learns lessons about each other, life and each other.

Those of you going into the theater expecting another No Country may be a little disappointed, as True Grit is a much more straight up western than that previous film, but at the same time it’s no less good. It’s superbly acted all around, which should come as no surprise. Tron notwithstanding, since when does Jeff Bridges not bring a healthy dose of badassery to the roles he plays? Matt Damon was a big surprise here. His portrayal of La Boeuf seemed to be one part Jason Bourne, two parts Mark Whitacre and Linus Caldwell. What was so great about it was that it was funny without trying to be funny. And oh, how wrong things could have gone there. I mean, how tired are we of the snarky sidekick who’s only snarky to be snarky?

But the real showstopper here is Hailee Steinfeld, who plays Mattie Ross. She’s come out of obscurity and proven in just two short hours how capable she is of rolling with the big dogs. Now, if you’re asking who Hailee Steinfeld is, I don’t imagine you’re much different from the rest of the world, and that’s including her parents. But fear not, because you’re probably going to be hearing her name much more in the future.

True Grit is definitely one of those the-journey-is-more-important-than-the-destination films. The relationship between Mattie, Cogburn and La Beouf and how it develops is what keeps you glued to the screen. The actual resolution to their journey, the reason they’ve all banded together in the first place is over so quickly you daren’t (DAREN’T!) blink for fear of missing it. And once it’s all over, the film peters out a bit, with its coda feeling more like a, “Well, we sure had some fun, eh?” than anything that really adds to the story. I’ve never read the book, so I couldn’t say how faithful this is to that, although I’ve heard that the film as a whole toes the line pretty close.

I really liked this one. The chemistry (as we say in the hard sciences) between the leads is more than enough to make up for whatever small shortcomings the story has. And at two hours, the whole thing goes by pretty fast. As westerns go, this is probably one of the purest we’re going to see in a while, which is a credit to the Coen Brothers and the tone they’re able to set in their films. Tickets cost about, what? $30 apiece now? Go out and spend it. It’s completely worth it.

“Did anybody lose their secret CIA stuff? I don’t think so!”

I can imagine that after making the incredibly depressing yet incredibly awesome No County For Old Men, the Coen Brothers looked at their latest crime-caper-gone-awry and said, “Oh it’s good to laugh again.” And laugh we did. Burn After Reading isn’t short on funny, even though it lacks some of the cohesion of other Coen movies like O’ Brother Where Art Thou and The Big Lebowski.

Osbourne Cox is a CIA analyst who quits the Agency after being confronted by his boss about his drinking problem. His wife, Katie, is having an affair and talking to a lawyer about a divorce. At the lawyer’s request, Katie puts all of Osbourne’s financial records on CD, only to lose it at the gym. The disc is found by two employees, Chad Feldheimer and Linda Litzke, who want to use the information to blackmail Osbourne. I don’t know about you, but I bet things don’t work out just like they planned! (Actually I know it doesn’t because I’ve seen the movie.)

What worked. The Coen Brothers are A-list filmmakers, and their movies attract A-list talent. Burn is no exception. Everyone here is at the top of their game. John Malkovich as Tourette’s poster child Osbourne and Brad Pitt as the bumbling Chad deliver the biggest laughs of the entire movie. The always funny J.K. Simmons (who’s great in anything he does, whether he’s barking out orders at the Daily Bugle, or burning swastikas into Beecher’s ass) bows in a hilarious performance as a clueless CIA bigwig. And George Clooney makes men everywhere question their own sexuality.

What didn’t work. There are epic movies, like The Lord of the Rings. There are solid movies, like 3:10 to Yuma. And then there are movies that, for one reason or another, feel like extended television episodes. Burn moves along at a brisk 95 minutes. And while it’s not a direct knock against it, I’ve found that it can be hard to get invested in movies that are too short. The Coens are masters at finding humor in dark situations, and filling their movie with unexpected twists. Burn is no different, but a few unexpected twists may be a little too much for some people.

This was a good movie, and easily one of the summer’s (we’ll lump it in) best comedies, but I can easily think of four or five Coen movies that top it. I give it a B. Take your girlfriend out to see it. Just don’t tell her about all the profanity.