Not every grand campaign for Oscar glory pans out.
This year the plan from Paramount was to hold the Coen Brothers’ remake of the great western, “True Grit,” right ’til the end. The idea was that everyone would put it on presumptive lists of Oscar nominees without seeing it. It worked! It’s been every critic and blogger’s 10th slot choice.
Unfortunately, this may now all come to naught, ‘for “True Grit” has finally started screening. And while it’s fine, it’s not exceptional, and falls maybe a bullet short of an Oscar nomination.
The first half hour or so: brilliant and inventive. The rest of it: a little dull and drawn out. Josh Brolin keeps his word, too. He told me in September that he only appears in the last part of the movie. He was right. He’s on screen a short time, yet they’ve give him third billing. He should have been billed “and” or “with” or “guest starring.”
Jeff Bridges plays the John Wayne role of “Rooster Cogburn” as unimaginatively as possible. He’s also hard to hear because he mumbles through most of the film. Luckily, Bridges won an Oscar just nine months ago. I don’t think he’s going to be in this year’s mix. The five really Best Actors are Colin Firth, James Franco, Ryan Gosling (“Blue Valentine”), Mark Wahlberg, and Michael Douglas (from “Solitary Man”). Robert Duvall is the potential spoiler. Rapid talking Jesse Eisenberg, from “The Social Network,” is in there, too. And never count out Leonardo DiCaprio.
The studio is pushing 13 year old Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross, the role made famous in 1969 by Kim Darby. Like Eisenberg, she’s another fast talking monotone. Still, her performance is front loaded–in the first 30 minutes Mattie takes charge in the hunt for her father’s killer, and even rides a horse through a lake. But do we really want to repeat the Anna Paquin scenario from years ago? There are at least a half dozen adult actresses who did superior work this year and deserve Best Supporting acclaim.
Who I did really like: Matt Damon is exceptional as Texas Ranger LaBeouf, the part played by Glen Campbell in the original. He even gets to spank Mattie, which I approve of. Damon is just great with his Texas accent and demeanor. Wasn’t it just last year he was playing South African in “Invictus”? Damon gets added to a list that includes Geoffrey Rush, Andrew Garfield (and or Justin Timberlake), Christian Bale, and Michael Douglas (“Wall Street 2”).
“True Grit” looks beautiful (thanks to Roger Deakins), sounds great, and is clever enough for a while. But when it drifts off, it never really comes back. Top 5 for this year’s Oscars? Probably not when you’ve got this stellar group: “The Social Network,” “The King’s Speech,” “127 Hours,” “The Fighter,” and “Toy Story 3.” But if the film turns out to have true grit, maybe it will be in the second tier with “The Kids Are All Right,” “Black Swan,” “Blue Valentine,” “Shutter Island,” “Rabbit Hole,” “The Ghost Writer,” “Winter’s Bone,” and “Inception.”