Showbiz Midgets: High Pain Thresholds or Low Dignity?

Well that title isn’t politically correct in the slightest, I know, but it’s a valid point and is relevant to this particular review.

For today’s review I’m looking at the 2011 version of the classic Western, True Grit, starring Jeff Bridges, Matt “I’m currently starring in every film in the world” Damon and little known child actress Hailee Steinfield.

So why am I talking about midgets? Well there’s a particular scene where a couple of extras who are credited as being ‘Indian Youth’ get violently kicked around by Bridges’ character, Rooster Cogburn. I thought “Wow, they are actually having violence against children. That’s realistic for the time, but a bit taboo to actually film these days”. Then we briefly saw a close up of their faces and the realisation dawned upon me “Ah, they’re midgets”.

And it made me think – how often do you see midgets (I actually don’t think its PC to call them midgets actually, but hey-ho…or should I say ‘Heigh Ho’. HA!) – treated as anything other than diminutive figures of fun? Apart from Kenny Baker. Certainly as someone who watches wrestling, it’s not uncommon to see midgets (especially in Mexico) getting thrown around like rag-dolls – look at the GIF below as an example – and the same applies in films like True Grit. And that stuff must really hurt. It’s as if to say ‘Oh they don’t feel pain like the rest of us’. The current standard-bearer for midgets in popular culture – Hornswoggle in WWE – is portrayed as a animalistic mute who lives under the ring and exists purely to act like a child and yet also sleaze onto women. We’re conditioned not to take people with dwarfism seriously.

Where is the dignity in this?

Hell, even the way some showbiz midgets die is often done with a sort of macabre comedy to it, such as the old British wrestling midget who died falling off the kerb while paralytically drunk, or the two Mexican midget wrestlers who were accidentally murdered by a pair of prostitutes who spiked their drinks with enough ‘medicine’ to put a normal sized man to sleep long enough to be robbed. Sadly the little men’s constitutions couldn’t take an adult sized dose and they died. It feels wrong, but you can’t help but chuckle.

Actually, I don’t want to offend anyone here, and I mean that seriously. Inevitably people will see the last few paragraphs as me making fun of midgets, but I’m just explaining how they are portayed. Moreover, I know that people who are afflicted with dwarfism prefer to be called ‘little people’, or at least that’s what a ‘little person’ on Yahoo Answers says, because the word ‘midget’ has connotations of being in the circus. And I suppose that’s the problem. In the main, popular culture has always used ‘little people’ in a way that you aren’t to take them at all seriously. And therefore I suppose, you just don’t. And really, those who take offense to the term midget are actually being let down by people in the same boat as them allowing themselves to be treated like that. It’s a vicious circle.

But enough about them…let’s get back to the matter at hand.

The Plot

It’s a very simple plot. A wise-bey0nd-her-years 14 year old girl called Mattie Ross (played by Steinfeld) is looking for some Western-style justice for her father’s killer, Tom Chaney (played by Josh Brolin). To do this, she enlists the services of the famous US Marshall Rooster Cogburn (Bridges) to hunt him down and bring him to justice, whether that be shooting him on the spot or bringing him back to face trial and hang. Meanwhile a Texas Ranger called LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) is also on his trail and feels he has more right to see him brought to justice than Ross.

So the three of them go off together and though both LaBouef and Cogburn are initially sceptical of having a 14 year old girl travelling with them, they soon come to respect her.

Anyway, they establish that Chaney is travelling with the infamous Ned Pepper Gang – who Cogburn has previous with – and it leads to a showdown, as you would expect.

And that’s it. That’s the basic plot of the film. Doesn’t sound like much, but sometimes that’s not a bad thing.

Thoughts

Before I saw the film I was told “Oh, that’s meant to be quite slow”, so I was mildly cautious going in. It turns out I had nothing to worry about.

True Grit isn’t about twists & turns or thrills & spills. It’s character driven, rather than plot driven. The writers give time to the development of each character, and the interactions between the leads. Sure, there is more to it than I explain in the plot section. The characters fall out with each other of course, and the tension between LaBouef and Cogburn leads to them going their separate ways for a while, but that’s not done as a way to make a thin plot stretch further or anything like that.

The first half hour of the film is devoted to Steinfeld’s character, and for someone who doesn’t have a massive amount of acting roles to her credit, she really does do a good job. Often American child actors come across as brats. But she doesn’t in my opinion. I actually thought she must have been something like 22-years-old playing the part of a 14 year old, especially since she gets given a ‘good old fashioned spanking’ by LeBouef, but it turns out she’s actually the same age as her character – a rarity in Hollywood. So yeah, I was impressed. Of course, the casting directors let themselves down a little bit, because the character is often bluntly referred to as being particularly ugly, and of course they couldn’t bring themselves to cast someone who was actually really ugly. I feel very wrong commenting on the looks of a 14 year old, but I’m sure you get what I’m trying to say.  I suppose if they had cast a particularly unfortunate looking girl in the part (like Heather off Eastenders for example) then that girl’s self confidence would forever be damaged.

As for Matt Damon, I know a lot of people dislike him and criticise his acting, but I suspect that has something to do with just not liking the Hollywood leading man. Damon isn’t spectacular, but he’s not a bad actor. In fact, he’s good in this, and does a believable job of portraying a man who has bitten his tongue badly and is having trouble speaking (which is what happens at one point). My only complaint is that in amongst a load of actors who got into the role in terms of their appearance, Damon looks a bit too well groomed and certainly has far too white teeth for the era. But you can’t have everything.

What a lovely movie poster

Star of the show is undoubtedly Jeff Bridges. As I think I may have said before, my definition of a good actor is someone who can realistically portray a wide range of characters, but at the same time makes it look natural. Portraying a wide range of characters obviously involves changing body language, the way you talk (which doesn’t necessarily mean the sound/accent of your voice) and the overall believability of the role. I’ve seen a few films with Bridges in it, and he’s been different in each one. And as Cogburn he’s great. You don’t detect that he’s ‘ACTING’, like you do every time you see Al Pacino. As a character, Rooster Cogburn is exceptionally well realised.

Another thing I liked about the film was the character of Chaney. From the way he’s built up, you expect Chaney to be the big bad Western Villain like Liberty Valance. But he’s not. He’s a bit simple and not exactly fearsome. It was a nice and unexpected touch

Of course, there are other important factors to consider when judging a film like this. The direction and production of the film appears to be of an authentic and generally high standard. Apart from Matt Damon’s Hollywood smile, the actors all look the part, the sets and settings are well realised. Similarly, it has the right amount of violence for a film of this type and does it in a gruesome – but still acceptable – way. The scene where one character gets his fingers chopped off looks ultra realistic.

Overall, it’s very well done.

This film passed the ‘Checking the time’ test. The 110 minutes went by quickly and kept my attention throughout.

Should You Go And See True Grit?

Yes. I can’t imagine many people would dislike this film. Great acting, great writing, great casting, great direction, great production values. It’s…well…great.

Westerns haven’t been that common on the cinema lately, but I would say this…If you liked Red Dead Redemption on the 360/PS3 last year then you’ll like this. It’s basically Red Dead come to life.

This is the best film I’ve seen so far this year and I would highly recommend you see it.

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One Response to Showbiz Midgets: High Pain Thresholds or Low Dignity?

  1. […] Skyfall Sorry, Wrong Number Ted Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy Thor Transformers: Dark of the Moon True Grit Unknown War Horse Warrior Wreck-It Ralph The Wrong Man X-Men: First […]

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