Wednesday, October 12, 2011

I do not believe in contractions: True Grit (2010)

True Grit is a modern western in the truest sense, with dialogue completely devoid of contractions and dirty, worn people and places belying the mystique of the era. Brutal violence is laden with the blackest of comedy as only the Coen brothers can, tonally teetering without losing balance.

Shortly after the murder of her father by a thug, a 14 year girl that is world-weary beyond her years hires a law-bending alcoholic US Marshal to give chase. Tagging along is an arrogant Texas Ranger who drifts in and out of the story as tempers flare and wane.

More startling than the breakout performance of Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross is the spectacular cinematography. Iconic imagery plays both to and against the Western stereotype across a painterly canvas. Evoking the expectation of sun-bleached plains, barren wilds, and natural light bathed interiors, negative space is used beautifully.

Characters often stand silhouetted against shocks of color and drift between darkness and pools of light.

Unlike the modern sensibilities of high contrast super saturated film tending towards blue and oranges, natural tones are given full play. Earthy worn textures pattern everything, and are crisp. Shadows are deep inky blacks that reveal detail while dropping into darkness.

The striking imagery stands to enhance and tell the story rather than work against or hide underneath it. Unlike the journeyman work that permeates most filmed media, this is true artistry and craftsmanship.

Easily the most beautifully photographed film I have seen in years, True Grit confirms Roger Deacon’s status as one of film’s greatest cinematographers.

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