I added screen caps from True Grit. Enjoy!
DVDs: How Good Is Matt Damon? Damn Good
TRUE GRIT ($39.99 BluRay or $29.99 regular DVD; Paramount) — The Coen Brothers movie is solid fun that’s better than the original and more true to the terrific novel by Charles Portis. Hailee Steinfeld gives a funny but very particular performance that could be the sign of a singular talent or a one-off stunt. Josh Brolin is hissable as the villain. Jeff Bridges shamelessly chews the scenery in the hammy role made famous by John Wayne. But I want to talk about Matt Damon.
He gives the best performance of the film as the over-confident Texas Ranger LaBoeuf. The character is nominally comic relief, but Damon makes him the heart of the movie. The little girl is preternaturally calm and mature. Bounty hunter Cogburn is a caricature of the hard-drinking frontierman. Only LaBoeuf is a recognizable human being, a man who is a tad vain but at heart a decent person. Damon gets all the humor out of this easily offended young man but he also makes you care about LaBoeuf and consequently about the film as a whole. If anyone might die in this enterprise you fear it would be LaBoeuf, so all the suspense and drama centers on whether he’ll make it home alive or at least redeem himself as a brave and valued companion. With his accustomed ease, Damon steals the show by playing a supporting role that other movie stars might not deign to accept.
It’s just the latest achievement by one of the best actors working today. Damon’s looks always promise the square-jawed decency of a 1950s leading man. But his talent often lies in subverting our expectations. He broke through as the math whiz in Good Will Hunting of course. Then came Saving Private Ryan, with Damon as every mother’s son caught in the dangers of war. His career seemed set as a traditional hero. But Damon followed that immediately with one of his best and most underrated turns. He became almost invisible in The Talented Mr. Ripley, a mousy killer who subsumes the identity of the people he destroys. Look at the way Damon maintains the anonymous demeanor of a servant in the opening scenes and you’ll see a movie star choosing to become an actor.
He showed he had charisma to burn in the Ocean’s Eleven movies. But it’s the Bourne trilogy that has truly vaulted Damon to the top. If comedies get little respect, even they receive more critical attention than the performances in action films. Damon’s work in the Bourne movies constitutes one of the best action performances on film, equal to Harrison Ford’s work in the early Indiana Jones movies and easily one of the most complex achievements in the genre. Damon delivers the confusion and apprehension of a man who finds a terrified release in the violence he is so clearly capable of achieving, a violence that both thrills and disturbs him. With a minimum of dialogue and often through his face and body movements alone, Damon creates a man audiences live vicariously through but also pity in his desperate desire to know exactly who he is. Best of all, Damon showed the rare restraint of walking away from the franchise before it became repetitive and dumb.
The smart choices continued: the CIA agent in The Good Shepherd, the gangster turned cop in The Departed (proving again how good Damon is at internal conflict) and the hilariously inept stool pigeon in The Informant!. That’s a very funny movie but Damon’s gifts as a comic haven’t been fully exploited yet (despite his amusing work on 30 Rock), any more than his ability to be a romantic lead. Presumably that just doesn’t interest him since he’s barely assayed such a common, almost inevitable role. Politics interests him more, from the complex Syriana to The Green Zone to his work as the narrator of the best documentary of 2010, Inside Job.
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of Damon’s talent is that he’s only seemed to scratch the surface of what he’s capable of doing. The older he gets, the more interesting and varied the roles he should be able to tackle. Damon’s never been trapped by leading man status but growing more mature will only play into his natural instinct for the interesting and off-beat. Unquestionably, the best is yet to come.
Matt Damon had to double check he hadn’t hurt his co-star Hailee Steinfeld every time they filmed a fight scene in True Grit.
In one controversial scene, 14-year-old Hailee’s character Mattie is slapped by Matt’s character LaBeouf.
Hailee said: “I thought it was fun, and also funny. After every take, Matt would ask if I’m OK and that I wasn’t hurt.”
The actress added that working with Matt, Jeff Bridges and directors the Coen brothers was a good laugh.
She said of the directors: “They’re really big kids…They are amazing. You know when they like something – they just giggle.”
And Jeff revealed he and Hailee played Pass The Pigs in between takes.
“Her pig was Bo Bacon, and mine was the Pig Man,” he said.
Had you wanted to work with Joel and Ethan Coen for sometime?
Matt Damon: Yeah, forever. I first met Joel in 1994 when I did a cable TV movie [‘The Good Old Boys’] with his wife Fran [Frances McDormand] down in West Texas. So I had met Joel in West Texas 16 years ago and it took them that long to offer me a job! [laughs]. But I was dying to work with them and any actor you talk to would say the same thing. If you ask for a shortlist of directors, they would be right there.
Was it fun building your character, LaBoeuf?
MD: He’s a great character and it was a lot of fun. I worked with Tommy Lee Jones in 1994 when he directed ‘The Good Old Boys’, which Fran and I did with him and that’s when I first met Joel and Ethan. And Joel and Ethan subsequently worked with Tommy to incredible effect in ‘No Country for Old Men’ and Tommy gave a remarkable performance in that. And actually, I had Tommy as a frame of reference [for ‘True Grit’] because he’s from West Texas. And he’s also somebody who is really fun to listen to, he knows a lot about a lot, and there’s something of the English teacher in him – you can ask him an obscure question and he enjoys knowing what he knows [laughs]. And so we kind of riffed on that. It’s not exact but it’s a similar way of presentation. My character in ‘True Grit’ is supposed to be a windbag – it’s like he comes over as a man who knows everything but actually doesn’t know very much at all! Not that Tommy’s like that, but Tommy is a great storyteller. And that was where we started to build the guy.
Judging from Matt Damon’s body of work, one would think that Hollywood has definitely been kind to him. In fact, with his latest movie, it seems Damon’s lucky streak still holds. “True Grit,” his upcoming starrer directed by the Coen (Joel and Ethan) Brothers, is creating quite a buzz in the Oscars; but more so, it has been an opportunity for Damon to finally suck it up to the two directors he’s been dying to work with.
An adaptation of Charles Portis’ novel with the same title instead of a remake of the 1969 film, expectations are high considering the original movie was a John Wayne classic for which he won his only Oscar. “It’s hard to find material that feels like it’s not just a retread of something,” Damon says. “But this is a western that deserved to be made. I think Clint (Eastwood) did it to great effect 15 years ago but I read everything and I hadn’t come across a script that was this good, with directors of this caliber and a role like this. It was a very easy decision for me.”
The fact is, even Damon admits that choosing movie roles hadn’t been too hard for him since he did the Bourne series. “Suddenly my choices became really easy –like Paul Greengrass would call or Martin Scorsese. It’s ridiculous! Like, someone would ask me ‘why did you do this movie?’ Well, that’s easy, if Martin Scorsese asks me to do a movie I’m there. It’s not even a choice. If the Coen Brothers ask you to work with Jeff Bridges on ‘True Grit,’ that’s easy. I was in before I knew what the movie was. And then I looked at it and the script is great.”
IT’S every little boy’s dream to be in a western, but for Matt Damon, True Grit had certain magic ingredients.
It was being directed by the Coen brothers, starred the double-punch talent of Jeff Bridges and Josh Brolin, and was based on a classic 1968 novel by Charles Portis.
The last time True Grit was worked into a film, it won its star, John Wayne, an Oscar, for his portrayal as US Marshal Rueben “Rooster” Cogburn.
So for Damon, who plays interfering Texas Ranger LaBoeuf, it was simply a case of “where do I sign?”
“This project, it’s like a dream,” says Damon.
“I get a phone call. The first phone call is, like, `The Coen brothers are considering you for a role in their next movie.’
“That’s really exciting. Then I find out that they’re doing True Grit.
“I go talk to them and they give me the book. I had never read the book and the book is fantastic. It really is. It really is a great piece of American literature that I totally missed and then I read their adaptation – I write scripts – and it’s really great. It’s a really great adaptation.”
This time Bridges takes on the role of Cogburn, the ageing, drunken, one-eyed marshal, hired by 14-year-old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) to avenge her father’s death.
It was the role that won Wayne a long-awaited Oscar in 1969. But the Coen brothers, Joel and Ethan, who built their reputation on films such as Fargo, O Brother, Where Art Thou and No Country for Old Men, didn’t consider that they were doing a remake. They were going back to the book and by the book.
Their story focuses on Mattie’s tale, with newcomer Steinfeld stealing many scenes and Elizabeth Marvel providing the voice of her adult narrator.
“What they did, which was so smart, was that they used all this dialogue that Portis had written in the book,” says Damon.
“Charles Portis is still alive. He’s down in Arkansas. He’s almost 80 years old and he just had this incredible ear for dialogue.”
The Cohen brothers, who meticulously plan each scene in advance, sent Damon a series of storyboards to look through.
“You get this chunk, this big, thick book and you can literally just look at the movie, how it’s going to be shot.
“They have such a mastery of the whole process that there’s none of the anxiety or stress. I was just like, `Wow. What a great experience’.”
A little surprisingly, Damon has still not seen John Wayne’s version. He owns the movie on DVD, he promises, but it still remains in its plastic shrink wrap.
The busy actor, who has also been working on Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter, in which Damon plays a factory worker who can communicate with the dead, and thriller-romance flick The Adjustment Bureau opposite Emily Blunt, simply hasn’t had a chance to watch it.
“I kept saying that I had to see it because I knew I was going to be asked (about it), but I just haven’t had time. I asked (the Cohen brothers) about that, I said, `Should I see the movie?’ And they said, `Well, no we’re not really doing a remake. We’re going to the original source material and we’re doing the book. So the book is what we really need you to focus on’. ”
The interesting thing about True Grit essentially a tale about tough grown men is a little girl.
Steinfeld, only 13 at the time of filming, impressed her directors and co-stars in her portrayal of Mattie.
Against the advice of her elders, self-assured Mattie hires a reluctant choice of marshal Cogburn to hunt down her father’s killer Chaney, played by Brolin.
Damon’s character, a ranger who is on the hunt for the same man for a different crime, is more headache than hero. It’s Mattie who displays the “true grit” of the film’s title.
“I think the central character, the true grit of Mattie, the girl who’s on the cusp of womanhood,” he says.
“It’s about the loss of her innocence, but this incredible spirit of this girl and then these really colourful characters that come around to flesh out the story.”
Damon knows all about raising girls. He and his Argentine-born wife Luciana Bozan Barroso have four of them. Alexia, 12, is her daughter from a previous marriage, then there’s Isabella, 4, Gia, 2, and Stella, who was born in October last year.
An experienced dad, Damon was impressed with Steinfield’s maturity when he first met her and how she would take direction from the Coen brothers in the same way as he or Bridges would.
“I met her in New Mexico to rehearse and I just remembered being more struck by how poised she was, shockingly. I mean, I have a 12-year-old, but to see a 13-year-old (like that), it was alarming.”
True Grit is Steinfeld’s first movie and she was chosen from a pool of 15,000 to take on the role.
One of the most challenging scenes to shoot was where the weak-willed LaBoef loses it and takes to spanking her.
“Well, I’ve had a lot of practice,” father Damon laughs.
“They put a board over her and I’m hitting this board. So she couldn’t even feel it. She was laughing, saying, `I can’t even feel you hitting me’. But it had to be brutal enough that Jeff would pull his gun out and point it at me. So that was it.”
In an age in which high technology and fantastic tales of superheroes and futuristic characters reign supreme, True Grit proves there is still a place for a classic, character-driven western story.
How does Damon approach that as an actor?
“What we’re doing is setting up a sequel where Transformers come in and that’s the big play here. That’s the big idea,” he jokes.
“We’re just using the first one to set that up and then we’re going to do like 14 of these things back to back.
“Every summer there’s going to be a new Transformers meets the True Grit cast. No, I think that sometimes you see these lurches in different directions, like suddenly it’s all 3D or suddenly it’s all superhero movies.
“There’s always a kind of correction and I think at the end of the day people love good stories.”
What about Matt Damon in the Supporting Category for True Grit!? So subdued and relaxed yet something pretty surprising happened — I forgot I was watching Matt Damon. He became a pretty integral part of the film’s tone. Could it have worked without him? Yes. But he played the part EXACTLY the way it needed to be — not too over-the-top, not too quirky. And I know it’s not a remake, but if it’s any compensation, he outclassed Glen Campbell in every way (see: True Grit, 1969) —Robert
True Grit has been nominated in the following categories:
Hereafter has been nominated in for:
The 83th Academy Awards will happen on February 27th.
The last section to be finished is the Movies one. I’m redoing a lot of screen captures from the movies, so those will be added later, but most of the movies are added already. I’ll be adding upcoming movies in a few. The sections that are new/updated: