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‘True Grit,’ ‘Rabbit Hole’

The Coen Brothers have always had a peculiar relationship with Texas, maybe because the sense of Wild West recklessness is still cultivated by urbanites. It’s a complex feeling, though: A lone Ranger (sans mask) named LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) endures a share of mockery in True Grit, but it’s forgiveable — the movie is just so damn entertaining.

I barely noticed a contraction in the dialogue until the waning minutes of the film, which imbues the tale with a poetic majesty without being stilted. Yet the Coens keep everything in the realm of the real; this isn’t some commonplace revenge fantasy but a devil-in-the-details character study of a girl (Hailee Steinfeld, who’s remarkable) and a wizened marshal-for-hire (Jeff Bridges, better even than his Oscar performance in last year’s Crazy Heart). It avoids predictable, touchy-feely sentimentality while still being emotionally stirring.

Less stirring is Rabbit Hole — perhaps because it tries too hard. A couple (Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart) work through their grief over the death of their child in wildly different ways. It’s a prickly story about yuppies in denial where so many of the characters seem to want to be hated — or at least misunderstood. Grief is hard to portray in small doses (everyone deals with loss uniquely), and to try to make a movie of nothing but is too great a task for director John Cameron Mitchell. Kidman’s OK, but the standout is Miles Teller as a regretful teen. He and Steinfeld should make a movie together.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

True Grit: Five stars; Rabbit Hole: Two stars

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 24, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens