Welcome Tyrants, and thanks for checking out our coverage of Paramount's new western, True Grit. The film is written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen and stars Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, and Hailee Steinfeld. Paramount was cool enough to invite us to the press junket at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, and while an audio recording of the conference should be available early next week - keep checking back, we'll post it when we get it - I decided to go ahead and post some quotes from the event to give you all an idea of what to expect when True Grit hits theaters on December 22nd.
In attendence were writer/directors Joel and Ethan Coen, legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins, and stars Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld, Josh Brolin, and Barry Pepper. I had a chance to see the film on Wednesday night and it's one of my favorites of the year. It's so different from the Coen's 2007 modern western No Country For Old Men; this one is totally stylized both in dialogue and in tone, and is a phenomenal addition to 2010's film arsenal.
The film is based on Charles Portis' novel of the same name, and though a film adaptation already exists - 1969's True Grit, the role which earned John Wayne an Oscar - the filmmakers made it very clear this movie is NOT a remake of the earlier version and is instead an adaptation of Portis' novel. "We're not making that movie," Bridges said, "we're making the book."
This film wasn't another excuse for the directing duo to delve into more genre work, either. After experimenting with film noir (The Man Who Wasn't There), mystery (The Big Lebowski), myth (O Brother, Where Art Thou?), screwball comedy (The Ladykillers), and more, the brothers almost didn't even consider this to be a western. "It is a western, but we were thinking more about the novel than doing a western, per se," Ethan Coen explained. Roger Deakins, famed cinematographer of 2007's instant classic western The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and cohort of the Coens since 1991's Barton Fink, put it this way: "It's really a film about characters. I'm not sure it's a western in that traditional sense...for me, whether it was a western or not wasn't important."
But why did the Coens choose to adapt this particular book? "There's a lot of humor in the novel," Joel says. "It was one of the things that attracted us to the novel and led us to adapting it." Bridges was clearly comfortable with the humor, slurring and grumbling his way through the iconic role of Rooster Cogburn with apparent ease and earning some of the film's biggest laughs. It's OK, Rooster - we're laughing with you, not at you. Matt Damon actually gave a surprisingly funny performance as well, taking well to the stilted dialogue of the time and bringing a lot of humor out of his strange Texas Ranger character.
Josh Brolin was funny for another reason - his character was kind of an idiot. He spoke about playing a man that's mentioned many times as the film progresses, but only appearing near the climax. "He's sort of a dim bulb," Brolin says, referring to his character Tom Chaney. "[And then I realized] he's more like a broken bulb with no filament...you expect a monster, and I like that better because it's better than the mythology you've built in your head [for how we expect that character to be]."
And while we've been throwing big names around - Coens, Bridges, Brolin, Damon - a thirteen year old girl absolutely stole the show. Hailee Steinfeld has a breakout performance as Mattie Ross, the girl who seeks to avenge her father's death and bring his killer to justice. Though she's the youngest lead, her character is smarter than anyone else in the entire film and through the Coens' spirited dialogue, she's able to show off a quick wit and fiery personality that makes her impossibly charming on screen. "When we first saw the first tape of Hailee," Joel says, "right from the beginning it was clear she was very comfortable with the language." She clearly made an impression on the rest of her co-workers, who had nothing but great things to say about the young actress. Brolin in particular seemed especially impressed with her work both on and off the screen, making multiple references to their rehearsal sessions where they really found the voices of their characters.
And though this was her first big movie, she actually seemed more at home on the interviewing stage than some of the other actors; she told a story about how 15 minutes after meeting Brolin for the first time, they were in rehearsals and he was lying on top of her with a knife to her throat. "So that was kind of weird." Hailee had study the script a few times to make sure she understood what was being said, and then a few more to make sure the words meant something to her character. The biggest piece of advice given to her by her fellow actors? "Don't take things too seriously. Just have fun."
Wrapping up, how would Bridges define the phrase "true grit"? "Seeing one thing through to the end. I aspire to that." The Dude may abide, but the Rooster will crow on December 22nd. This is a movie you don't want to miss. Again, if you're interested in the full audio from the interview, keep checking GeekTyrant and we'll post it as soon as it arrives.