The Coen brothers remake of “True Grit” is so straightforward and un-ironic that I wondered if the credits were wrong. But if you’re in the mood for a traditional Western with fine acting, smart dialogue and gorgeous cinematography, this movie is for you.
Jeff Bridges stars as Rooster Cogburn, a gruff, drunken, one-eyed U.S. Marshal hired by precocious 14-year-old Mattie Ross (newcomer Hailee Steinfeld) to capture Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), her father’s craven killer. Cogburn teams up with LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), a cocky Texas Ranger who’s also chasing Chaney.
The film sticks closer to the 1968 Charles Portis novel than the 1969 film that earned John Wayne an Oscar for his Cogburn. It’s more violent and funnier than the Wayne movie, featuring characters who speak in formal, elaborate sentences reminiscent of the TV series “Deadwood” without the cursing.
With his raspy voice, leather eye patch and Salvation Army clothes, Bridges looks more like a beggar than a lawman. His cavalier attitude toward killing is summed up by his reaction to a bungled shootout. “That didn’t pan out,” he says matter-of-factly.
Steinfeld, discovered in an open casting call, shows no signs of her big-screen inexperience. She’s as confident and unfazed as Mattie, who rides her horse across a deep river, plays hardball with a horse-trader (brilliantly played by Dakin Matthews) and barely winces when Cogburn cuts open her wound from a snake bite.
Damon’s lawman is a somber disciplinarian who spanks Mattie when she insists on joining the hunt for Chaney. Brolin doesn’t show up until late in the movie and is overshadowed by Barry Pepper as fellow criminal Lucky Ned, a gang leader with rotten teeth and a strange ethical code.
The wintry landscape is evocatively shot by cinematographer Roger Deakins and the spiritual-infused soundtrack strikes just the right tone.
“True Grit,” from Paramount Pictures, opens tomorrow across the U.S. Rating: ***1/2
“Somewhere,” Sofia Coppola’s bare-bones story about a debauched movie star hanging out with his 11-year-old daughter from a failed marriage, opens with an extended shot of Johnny Marco racing his black Ferrari around a track.
After a while, the scene gets monotonous. That also sums up the film, which is filled with long silent scenes of people sitting around doing nothing. Coppola wants to simulate real life, but she forgets that reality is often repetitive and boring on the screen.
Much of the film takes place at Hollywood’s Chateau Marmont, the celebrity hotel where John Belushi died of a drug overdose in 1982. Marco (a somnolent Stephen Dorff) lives alone there in an untidy abode where he hires pole dancers to entertain him as he lies in bed.
Marco’s aimless existence -- his main activities are drinking beer, smoking and sleeping with groupies -- is interrupted by a surprise visit from his daughter Cleo (perky Elle Fanning), dropped off by her mother for a stay of unspecified length.
Marco takes her to a skating rink and later on a promotional trip to Milan, where they stay in a luxury hotel suite with its own swimming pool. The more time he spends with his daughter, the more he realizes that his life is a waste.
He’s so lethargic and bland that it’s hard to believe he’s a movie star. Coppola may be telling us that vacuous celebrities are tedious, but then so is her film.
“Somewhere,” from Focus Features, opens tomorrow in New York, Chicago, Boston, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Rating: *1/2
What the Stars Mean: **** Excellent *** Good ** Average * Poor (No stars) Worthless
(Rick Warner is the movie critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)