Thursday, December 23, 2010

2 brief movie reviews: True Grit (2010); The Fighter (2010)

Directors - Ethan and Joel Coen
110 min; PG-13
Jeff Bridges - Rooster Cogburn
Hailee Steinfeld - Mattie Ross
Matt Damon - LaBoeuf
Josh Brolin - Tom Chaney
Barry Pepper - Ned Pepper

I've heard that True Grit (1969) starring John Wayne is a very good film, a true Western in the genre sense, yet I have never seen it, and I'm actually glad because I would not want comparisons to get in the way of my judgment of the new Coen brother's film of the same name. Just when you expected something out of the Coens you get the unexpected, a pretty straight forward western with little to no overly creative plot input. Thankfully this works incredibly well. This is a great film.

Hailee Steinfeld plays the role of 14 year old Mattie Ross, anything but your typical girl in the old west. Seeking to avenge her father's murder at the hands of Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) she looks to hire the nearest tough guy she can find. In steps Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), an uncouth, broke, drunken son of a bitch of a Marshall who also happens to be tough as nails when it counts. Along with Texas Ranger LaBeouf (Matt Damon), who has his own agenda in capturing Chaney, the three form an unlikely trio as they enter dangerous territory in the name of justice and money.

The film is full of laughable moments and you may even laugh out loud from time to time, but it is in no way a comedy and we are reminded of that each time a man's head is blown to pieces. Though Brolin is fine in a limited role and Damon provides some decent scenes, this film is all about Mattie and Rooster, a 14 year old girl with pigtails and a hardened drunk who has killed more men than he can remember. An incredible performance by both is only very very slightly let down by an unnecessary coda, but with little else to criticize I'll just say this is simply one of the best films of the year.

***** out of 5

(Note: Having already done my Best Of List I will simply say this film belongs somewhere in the top 10)

The Fighter (2010)
Director - David O. Russell
115 min; R
Mark Walberg - Micky Ward
Christian Bale - Dicky Eklund
Amy Adams - Charlene
Melissa Leo - Alice Ward

The Fighter, based on the true story of Miky Ward and his half brother Dicky Eklund, does two things which help it rise above a merely average film and into a better than average film, and without both of them I'm not sure this film would succeed as it does.

1: Mark Walberg is not really the star. He is not really the focus of the film. With that in mind, his speaking parts are actually quite limited, a good thing for Mark Walberg as a leading man. Letting his actions and mannerisms speak for themselves serve him much better than trying to read a two page scene.

2: The film does not try to overdo fight scenes, which usually leads to everyone questioning the realism of those scenes which ultimately detracts from the film. This film never really asks us to believe we are watching top quality boxing matches, it simply asks us to believe that the scenes we do watch are, well, believable.

The film is carried by the performance of Christian Bale, as the half brother Dickey to Mark Walberg's Micky Ward, the two siblings from lower class Lowell, MA are boxers. Well, Dickey was a boxer who once went toe-to-toe with Sugar Ray and knocked him down, or perhaps he stumbled to the mat, no matter. Now he is a junkie and HBO is doing a documentary on him in his home town. He's so strung out he never even grasps the reality of the addiction show they are making it out to be. So what? Well, he is also training Micky, and along with his mother Alice (Melissa Leo) they hold total control over him. They are family, but we never really fully grasp the reasons for all the love from Micky. He simply states they are his family.

When Micky begins a relationship with tough talking Charlene (Amy Adams) things change. The film becomes a struggle for Micky to choose what is best for him, which may not include the family he has always relied on, for better or worse. Based on a true story the film is a very good one but falls a little short on the emotional connection you get from, say, Rocky, but I freely admit I went into this with some preconceived notions of what I was going to get from Walberg and Bale, so maybe I'm being a little harsh when I say that it was entertaining enough, but nothing about this film ever really made me think I was watching anything too special.

**** out of 5

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