In what might be classified as an “entertainment irony,” it has taken a straightforward film set in the past to pry the public’s attention away from a complicated film set in the future. With all of the overblown adoration and critical acclaim being heaped on Inception—Christopher Nolan’s most recent movie—for the last six months or so, it is very refreshing to see the movie-viewing world actually giving credit where it is due: to Joel and Ethan Coen’s True Grit. Although not quite a perfect film, True Grit is the kind of movie that reminds us why we are so fascinated by movies in the first place. While Nolan seemingly takes great pride in his “intellectual” approach to storytelling, the Coen’s confidently take Nolan behind the woodshed for the spanking he so obviously needs, reminding us once again that intellectual storytelling does not just mean using big words and multiple layers of dream sequences.

I don’t say this to belittle Nolan’s work. In fact, I was rather surprised at just how much I was unimpressed by Inception. I had expected much more from such an able director. By the same token, I also had high expectations for True Grit. The two films actually have much more in common than initially meets the eye and should be studied side-by-side by budding film-makers and interested film-watchers alike. Both make use of a relatively small number of characters, are light on character development, and are heavy on dialogue. Both are visually stunning and well-acted (for the most part) and are technically well-executed. The differences between the two has little to do with the mechanics of film-making, but has everything to do with storytelling. While both are relatively simple stories that become more complex as they unfold, Nolan force-feeds complexity into Inception, while the Coen’s allow complexity to build naturally in True Grit.

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