This week gave me a special treat. I had the chance to go to a special screening of the upcoming Coen Brothers film, True Grit. Thanks to the Indy International Film Fest, I was invited to my local art cinema and in the top secret theater (displacing the 7:00 showing of Harry Potter). I wasn’t sure what to expect from this film. I’m familiar with the original, to a point, as it’s been years since I have seen it. I’m familiar with the Coen Brothers’ work and I’m familiar with Bridges, Damon and Brolin, and I enjoy all of the individual pieces that come together to make this film.
If you are not familiar with the story, a well-spoken and quite stubborn girl named Mattie Ross, played by Hailee Steinfeld, sets out to settle her recently murdered father’s affairs. Aside from the business aspect and claiming her father’s effects, she sets her heart on bringing his killer to justice. Unfortunately, her killer has ridden into Indian Territory, which is no place for a young girl. Mattie knows that chasing after a known fugitive on her own isn’t the smartest thing in the world, so she looks to hire a U.S. Marshal to hunt down Tom Chaney.
Mattie seeks out the meanest marshal in the area named “Rooster” Cogburn, played by the currently quite popular Jeff Bridges. The only problem I have with the film is when we first meet Cogburn: Bridges seems to channel Billy Bob Thornton’s Carl from Sling Blade, although he loses a bit of this after the count room scene. Cogburn is a heavy drinking, lazy and ruthless martial who seems to only care about his own interests. Complicating things further, a Texas Ranger named LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) is out to bring Chaney to justice, not for killing Mattie’s father, but for killing an important man in Texas; it is much more profitable for Chaney to hang in Texas, for LeBoeuf, anyway.
I’m not going to give a play-by-play of the whole film, but I will say that the Coens did a great job injecting humor into what could be a bleak film. Steinfeld does a great job playing Mattie as the “straight man” between the bickering Cogburn and LeBeouf. Damon does a great job playing LeBeouf as one who believes he is suave, good-looking and good. At times LeBeouf comes off a bit childish, but I think it plays well in the setting to show Cogburn disrespecting the man that has respect given so freely in his home state.
Barry Pepper plays gang leader Lucky Ned Pepper in a way that demands obedience, because respect is not an option. But the best actor in the film is in it for such a short time, it almost feels like a trick that he is listed on the poster: Josh Brolin plays Tom Chaney, the man who set the whole plot in motion with a gentle squeeze of his trigger finger. The reveal of Chaney is so unexpected that the film sort of shifts gears upon the reveal, moving from deeper character development to the action scenes common to this type of western.
I immensely enjoyed this film and the performances; A wildly talented cast and crew came together to make a film that is so immersive that the ending feels abrupt, not because it is, but because the story and the world they created is so enjoyable that you don’t want it to move on.
At the other end of the time line, TRON: Legacy was released this past weekend. Due to time constraints, I had to see the 3-D version. The two reasons this wasn’t such a big deal is that the film is very dark, not so much in content, but dark, as in lacking bright lights. The other reason I was okay with the 3-D showing is that large portions of TRON: Legacy were animated and in my opinion, that’s where 3-D belongs.
TRON: Legacy is the sequel to 1982’s TRON, the film Disney doesn’t want you to see. Why? Because the concept was well ahead of the execution. Enough about my feelings on the original. The new edition continues the story of Kevin Flynn through his son Sam, played by relative unknown Garrett Hedlund, who was recognizable to me only from his role in Four Brothers.
Now-27-year-old Sam is still emotionally dealing with his father’s disappearance twenty years ago. A rebel to the corporation built by his father, Sam believes, just as his father did, that the products provided by ENCOM should be free. After a stunt that potentially costs his father’s company embarrassment and a large amount of money, Sam is met at his apartment by Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner). Sam shuts Alan down before Alan can try to talk him into returning to run ENCOM, but before Alan leaves, he mentions that he received a page from his father’s office at the arcade, a number that has been disconnected for quite some time.
Curiosity, or the hope of finding out more about what happened to his father, causes Sam to investigate the arcade, where he gets pulled into the Grid as his father was in the first film. Once in the Grid, Sam is captured and assigned to games, outfitted in the futuristic light emitting garb like all others in the Grid, and given a disc, which we find out is the identity and experience of each program, or entity, inside the Grid. Sam is eventually reunited with his father, who gives us the entire back story necessary to understand that the Grid is his creation and that the villain CLU (played by a CG Jeff Bridges) is the one created to manage the Grid while Kevin is away in the real world. CLU has also been tasked with building the perfect system, which we know will never work.
Sam must get to the portal along with Kevin before it closes in about eight hours. Helping Kevin and Sam on the way is Quorra, played by the lovely Olivia Wilde. Meanwhile, we see CLU’s plan to escape the Grid and make the outside world part of the perfect system. The only thing they need is Kevin’s disc.
TRON: Legacy is a visually stunning film. The dialogue is trite at times, but overall the movie-going experience is fun. Disney has done a good job at bringing a movie that appealed to younger boys into the current generation with a story that is complex enough to keep most entertained. As I so often say, this one won’t change your life, but it is an enjoyable couple hours at the cinema.
How much would I pay to see it again?
True Grit, $9. It is a great story in a great setting with great performances.
TRON: Legacy, $7. Fun, entertaining and visually striking – no massive problems, but not great.
Everyone have a safe and wonderful holiday, and I’ll see you at the movies next year!
Jay Fralick is the co-host of The Wanna Watch a Movie? podcast
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Image: Disney, Paramount