True Grit and Black Swan Get High Praise

Devin Faraci, at Badass Digest, gives the Coen Brothers remake of True Grit solid marks, calling it “a rich, vibrant movie, one that you can slip inside of and live within for two hours.”

In fact True Grit has a surfeit of extraordinary acting talent on screen. There’s not a bum performance in the bunch; even Barry Pepper, who has been seemingly lost in the wilderness for some time, is terrific as ‘Lucky’ Ned Pepper, getting to deliver one of my all-time favorite lines in cinema history: “I call that bold talk for a one eyed fat man!”

That line is from the original True Grit (and I’m assuming from the book, by Charles Portis), and it’s an example of why this story is perfect for the Coen Brothers’ sensibility. The film is positively dripping in the darkly comic tone they do so well, and do with such straight faces. What’s interesting in True Grit, though, is the way that they’ve taken their usual way of dealing with morons and applied it to actually competent men. Matt Damon’s La Beouf is a Texas Ranger, a brave man and a fine shot, but he’s just as goofy and foolish (in his own way) as just about any Coen character. It’s like they’ve had enough of the easy targets, like Brad Pitt’s gym employee from Burn After Reading, and have gone for the really big game.

It works perfectly, and it allows them to play Rooster Cogburn as both a dissolute mess and a frighteningly competent gunslinger. And by extension it allows them to balance an incredible tone, where a scene can go from being funny to sad to exciting back to funny all within moments. There’s no whiplash, and you never feel the film changing gears. It’s just perfection of tone, the greatest skill the Coens have.

Roger Ebert tackles Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan, a ballet-horror-thriller, giving it 3.5 stars:

No backstage ballet story can be seen without “The Red Shoes” (1948) coming into mind. If you’ve never seen it of course eventually you will. In the character of Thomas, Aronofsky and Cassel evoke Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook), the impresario in that film, whose autocratic manner masks a deep possessiveness. And in Nina, there is a version of Deborah Kerr‘s ingenue, so driven to please.

“Black Swan” will remind some viewers of Aronofsky’s previous film, “The Wrestler.” Both show singleminded professionalism in the pursuit of a career, leading to the destruction of personal lives. I was reminded also of Aronofsky’s brilliant debut with “Pi” (1998), about a man driven mad by his quest for the universal mathematical language. For that matter, his “The Fountain” (2007) was about a man who seems to conquer time and space. Aronofsky’s characters make no little plans.

The main story supports of “Black Swan” are traditional: backstage rivalry, artistic jealousy, a great work of art mirrored in the lives of those performing it. Aronofsky drifts eerily from those reliable guidelines into the mind of Nina. She begins to confuse boundaries. The film opens with a dream, and it becomes clear that her dream life is contiguous with her waking one. Aronofsky and Portman follow this fearlessly where it takes them.

Both of these movies are really the only two I want to see at the moment.

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