Posts tagged Matt Damon
Happy New Year! I thought I’d start out the first week of 2013 by reviving my Starpulse Weekend Movie Preview column.
The flicks I’m going to discuss have already received limited release in theaters, but they’re opening in Boston this weekend, which means I’m allowed to talk about them now. This column contains my reviews of Kathryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty” and Gus Van Sant’s “Promised Land.”
In their own adaptation of True Grit, the Coen Brothers stick closer to the novel, putting more focus on Mattie than on Rooster. Despite the switch in concentration, the Coens’ version is still captivating. The very talented Jeff Bridges fills the boots of Rooster Cogburn, rendering the cantankerous U.S. Marshall with the greatest of ease. He skillfully adds humor and personality to the film without demanding all the attention.
For those unfamiliar, “True Grit” follows a strong-willed teenager named Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), whose father has been murdered by the outlaw Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin). Mattie believes the authorities will do little to capture and punish Chaney, so she hires the rough and tumble U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn to track him down. Determined to keep an eye on her investment, she petitions Cogburn to join his hunt, to which he reluctantly agrees. Once they set out on their journey though, the pair meets a Texas Ranger named LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), who is also chasing Chaney for the crime of murder. They decide to pool the resources and so begins an uneasy partnership between the three.
The headstrong LaBoeuf is an excellent foil for the crotchety Cogburn. LaBoeuf’s penchant for flapping his gums with idle chit-chat annoys Cogburn, who is a man of fewer words. Their clashing personalities create humorous moments in the film, and complicate their relationship with Mattie. Since they are much older and more experienced the two develop a paternalistic instinct, leading them to set aside their differences so that they can protect Mattie when she’s in trouble.
Steinfeld is impressive as the quick-tongued Mattie, a shrewd businesswoman who is wise and tough beyond her years. She’s always examining the financial angles of every transaction, and she’s never afraid to speak her mind, even if it means insulting an adult. Mattie Ross in the Coens’ “True Grit” is a strong female protagonist, that serves as a shining example for other current Hollywood films that lack well-developed female characters .
Normally remakes can be agitating for audiences, since they rarely bring new and entertaining elements to a story, however the Coens serve as excellent role models with their “True Grit.” The Coen brothers craft a true western that feels as dirty and dusty as the time period it’s set in. They fill the lens with panoramic landscapes and wide shots of the characters on horseback like you’d expect. What’s unique about the film though is its shift in focus back to Mattie, and the Coens’ trademark dark sense of humor that is present in its dialogue. Lines like Cogburn’s “Them men wanted a decent burial, they should have gotten themselves killed in summer,” will elicit a guilty chuckle.
My Grade: A
With “Invictus,” a biopic about South African president Nelson Mandela, Eastwood strives to tell several heartwarming stories about the bond of South Africans created by the team’s 1995 bid for the Rugby World Cup.
Eastwood meanders around these subplots, never focusing on any of them long enough so that viewers can connect with the characters. The overarching theme concentrates on President Nelson Mandela and his effort to unite blacks and whites after years of ethnic hatred. The newly elected president seeks to establish good will amongst his people by keeping white staff members and employing white bodyguards. At first his black bodyguards protest, but at Mandela’s insistence the men work together, slowly developing a camaraderie.
Mandela sees the nation’s rugby team as symbol of compromise in race relations. White South Africans have traditionally rooted for the nation’s rugby team, while black South Africans have rooted against the team. He sees preserving the team under a new government as a good faith gesture towards the white minority that the black government is not out to destroy everything whites once cherished.
Mandela throws all of his political energy behind the team, taking time out of his busy schedule to meet with its captain Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon). He challenges Pienaar and the team to exceed their own expectations and to make legitimate bid for the Rugby World Cup. Devoting all of his free energy to the team leads him to physical exhaustion and alienation from some of his own staff members, two aspects of the story that are never fully fleshed out.
Eastwood also concentrates on Pienaar and his team, showing their training and community outreach, but you only feel like you see them on a superficial level. Another subsection of this plot includes Pienaar’s father, a man representing the old regime, doubtful of Mandela’s abilities as a leader. You never really see why his attitude starts to change, he just seems to suddenly go along with the changing tide without reason.
During various moments there’s focus on a poor South African child, who we first encounter when he refuses a free rugby jersey from a shelter, based on the principle of what it represents. He pops up again at later points in the film, however we do not learn any real details about him. You never learn his name or anything significant about him which is disappointing, because he might have been one of the more creative avenues for the narrative to follow.
If there is one word that’s best suited to describe this movie it would be “forced.” Many aspects of this story just feel like they are trying too hard. Damon and Freeman feel like they are each forcing to maintain their accents, which restricts them from more freely interpreting the characters. Admittedly Damon does a better job with the accent than Freeman lending credibility to his character. One thing Freeman does quite well as Mandela however, is capturing his matter-of-fact sense of humor, in such a way that encourages the audience to laugh.
The dialogue itself is overtly cheesy and cliché, making an obvious show of inspirational intent. Damon’s character makes utterly generic team captain speeches, while Freeman’s speaks in a hodgepodge of Mandela-isms, which sound planted by the writer.
“Invictus” feels forced as a sports film because it fails to establish the proper tension. Even though the actors are playing rugby, one of the toughest, meanest sports, as the audience it’s difficult to feel like you’re in the heat of the action, despite your close proximity to the scrum. You never feel like the team is actually in danger of failing in their quest to accomplish their goals, because their future is never adequately placed in danger. The games in the World Cup pass by with little sense of true fiery competition.
While acclaim for this film has been relatively high among critics, I don’t believe this is one of Clint Eastwood’s finer movies. It’s not horrible or unwatchable, it’s simply not his best. If you have high hopes for this story you’ll probably be disappointed like I was.
My Grade: B-