The Western is a myth of values. True Grit is a story that appreciates these values without necessarily approving of them. This is a film made in the spirit of a long tradition, which is surprising coming from the usually more provocative Coen Brothers. But its subtle changes should not be ignored – they contain all its secret truths, and theirs.
In this film, the divisions that we value so much, out of which we create our sense of individuality, will victimize us to a terrifying monster of collectivity. The Thing absorbs and unifies life where suspicious and divided people destroy it. This is Invasion of the Body Snatchers accelerated to universality.
From Willem Dafoe approximating a German to Penelope Cruz approximating a maid to Judy Dench stretching no imaginations as a frowsy curd whose gaze would cure mustard, the train certainly carries cargo with the promise of becoming precious. But the cogs it winds up never outgrow their clock: the plot remands wit to the backstage of Branagh’s eyes and the film lulls almost indefinitely as soon as the mystery begins.
Christophe Gans admirably refers to Jean Cocteau’s 1946 La Belle et La Bête while presenting a version of the fairytale that should read as authentic even to those who have only seen the Disney one. What he does not do is capture the original’s symbolic poetry or frame the old pieces in such a way that their retelling is a revelation.
In Spade we find the perennial dark hero, the guy with toughness stitching up all the broken promises and empty bottles. Here’s the lusty dame with her own agenda. Here’s the story-less plot of dialogic violence. A villain like a plaster figure of deadly sins. A night capped by the hardest goodbye of the movies.