After a 2008 Writers Guild Award for Best Adapted Screenplay (No Country for Old Men), Joel and Ethan Coen have apparently struck gold again, grabbing the nom again this year for their adaptation of the Charles Portis novel True Grit. Unfortunate, considering the film's many flaws. The nominations, just announced this afternoon, seem to leave something to be desired.
True Grit stars Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn (filling John Wayne's boots from the film's 1969 release directed by Henry Hathaway), newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, Josh Brolin and Matt Damon. It is a genre-bending risk for the Coen brothers, who seem to over-refine their normal quirky style in this brutally honest American Western. Going in with high expectations, I felt bitterly disappointed by my usual directorial standbys.
Problems with casting, continuity and general interest and charm plague this film. Matt Damon's performance as Texas Ranger LaBoeuf tip-toes on the border between comical and tragic. At one point in the film we waste five minutes watching Jeff Bridges drunkenly shoot cornbread in the sky--a scene that we later find contributes nothing to the film. And sure, the desolate Texas landscapes sell the grit of this flick, but the raw gray settings do little for the audience's senses otherwise. While I could not (and certainly would not) appeal for a remake closer to Hathaway's original glamorized interpretation of the 1968 novel, I can unquestionably conclude that the Coens' 2010 remake (and the Writer's Guild Award nominations, for that matter) falls short of my expectations both as a piece of their impressive body of work and as a major player in this year's award season.