Monday, January 10, 2011
From the 1930s through the 1960s, Westerns ruled Hollywood. You could find a Western playing at your local theater any given week. Westerns fell out of fashion by the 1970s as contemporary audiences fell in love with special effects and action adventure movies. We saw a brief renaissance in the early 1990s starting with Kevin Costner’s, Dances with Wolves followed by Clint Eastwood’s, Unforgiven. Amazingly, both movies won an Oscar for Best Picture.
For those who love the Western genre, the 1990s brought a quick succession of one Western after another, including Geronimo, Tombstone, Wyatt Earp, Wild, Wild West, Maverick, and The Quick and the Dead. But in recent years, Hollywood once again turned its back on big-budget Westerns.
So what makes True Grit an outstanding movie? Is it the directing, acting, casting, cinematography, art direction, script or other factors? I don’t care what film critics will tell you. There’s no way to define outstanding filmmaking. In some ways, it’s like the classic definition of pornography, “You know it when you see it”. All of the elements come together in True Grit and create something that defines art. The individual elements somehow equal more than its total sum. And that doesn’t happen very often in a movie.
The final narration from Mattie Ross brings a satisfying conclusion to the film’s journey. “You pay for everything in this world. There is nothing free except the grace of God.” Mattie’s moral compass is determined to bring order to grace, mercy, justice, forgiveness and, ultimately, death itself.
Several people had raised eyebrows when it was announced that the Coen Brothers (Fargo and No Country For Old Men) were going to produce a Western. Known for their eccentric and quirky approach to filmmaking, could they play it straight? Thankfully, they found a way to incorporate their creativity and their unique vision while at the same time paying homage to the Western genre.