One of the great parts of seeing a film with a group of friends is the immediate post-viewing moment: the slow uncertain march to the exit and the emergence into the light of the lobby where opinions can be expressed. Certain films evoke more uncertainty than others at that moment. “Was it good? Was it bad? What will the others think if I take one stance or the other?” That’s exactly how I felt leaving True Grit.
Those feelings were mostly due to the fact that I had organized the outing, and that I had even waited for an hour at the SoHo Mac store a week before to hear the Coen brothers speak about the film. The film was, in many ways, strictly a Western, and I felt that the directors stuck close to the Charles Portis’ novel. That’s a bold thing to say, as I haven’t read True Grit, but I have read The Dog of the South, and I could recognize the Portis’ humor, dialogue, and plot structure coming through in the film. Standing in the lobby afterwards next to an amazing life-size cutout of Nic Cage’s head, my friends admitted that they expected more, and didn’t really get the film. I gave weak, evasive responses because I wasn’t really sure how I felt about the film, which was probably the best thing to do at the time.
Later that night the film returned to my mind, and I felt myself appreciating it and the Coens’ approach more and more. It didn’t have multiple dream dimensions or a ubiquitous social networking platform at its disposal (note: I liked both of those films), and I liked that fact. I really enjoyed how the film stuck to the genre and the book. This not so coincidentally matches the conclusion I came to after leaving the Coen brother’s Q&A at the Apple store.
Basically the entire time they were onstage with the very John Waters’ looking Peter Travers from Rolling Stone, they kept an extremely low profile. This was a little perplexing at first, and I wondered if they felt that they were too cool for the Mac fan boy setting. You could tell that the audience wanted artistic rants—the “meanings” behind their films, how their personal histories intersect with the films, how the magic happens, etc. But the Coens imparted that there really isn’t any magic behind the films, that they just wanted to make films and get films done, that the pay was good and it was interesting work. I think at one point they likened their jobs to any other jobs, like “accountants.” The one question that really seemed to perk them up was, fittingly, a technical one regarding film choice.
This approach was evident in True Grit. The assembled great actors, found breathtaking locations, and re-imagined the Portis novel while giving it the credit it deserved. Said and done.
Maybe it’s just living in New York City and missing the West, but True Grit did exactly what I wanted to: it took me away from the city and into another time and place. Later that night, after the credits had rolled and the impressions were revealed, I thought back to the anachronistic dialogue, straight-forward revenge plot, and particularly the imagery of the night-ride sequence after Mattie gets bit by the snake, and I appreciated it all in a very true-to-heart movie experience kind of way.