Roger Deakins and the Smart, Playful Cinematography of ‘True Grit’

After Martin Scorcese finally won an Oscar for directing The Departed, the speculation took off about who is the new overdue person in Hollywood. For me that question was quickly filled in with two names – actress Julianne Moore and cinematographer Roger Deakins. There are many films for which Roger Deakins has done “Oscar-worthy” work, yet the legendary director of photography has yet to hear his name called on Awards night. Films to his credit include modern classics like The Shawshank Redemption, Fargo, No Country for Old Men, A Beautiful Mind, and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. He frequently collaborates with Oscar winners like Sam Mendes, Ron Howard, and his longtime partners the Coen Brothers. His work is often a key factor in the discussions of why a certain film is great and his respected talent makes him a recognizable name to even those who don’t follow Awards season religiously.

Many speculate that Deakins may finally have his chance to receive an Oscar for his work in the Coen Brothers’ latest his, True Grit. I have already highly praised Deakins’ work in my review of the film:

Deakins’ camera pays homage to cinematic greats as it maintains the stillness of classic John Ford Westerns while framing just enough of each shot to give us more of the story. In one of the first scenes we get a low-angle shot looking upward at three men being hanged on the gallows. Simultaneous with their necks snapping grotesquely, we see two men looking on apathetically from a building in the background, one of them mopping his brow. This glimpse immediately puts the audience in the state of mind that was prevalent in this place and time – death is part of any normal day.

However, my brief paragraph of praise does not go far enough to crediting the genius whose discerning eye puts more story into each frame than words on a page ever could. Deakins’ work in True Grit is so subtle that for many the camera work may go unnoticed, but the movie going experience is elevated because of it. Some of my favorite shots include those of Mattie, Rooster, and LaBoeuf riding in the open plains of Indian Territory. Deakins magnificently captures the sense of wide open space, which is a quality inherent in every great Western. The characters feel like they exist in a territory that is mysterious, open, and theirs to explore which creates an exciting sense of impending discovery. Deakins smartly and sometimes playfully invites the audience along to join in the ride.

If there are any doubters still out there, a new video has surfaced that shows some of the most breathtaking shots in True Grit along with Deakins himself explaining his technique. Take a look below and spread the word to members of the Academy – give this man an Oscar.

[Video: The Hollywood Reporter | Image: OutNow!]

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  • I loved the cinematography of “True Grit”, by far the year’s best. I loved that video.

  • julian

    He will win on feb 27, surely. The only way the academy can avoid handing the little golden guy to Deakins is IF TKS will make a major sweep on Oscar night (which means nagging supp actor, supp actress etc. and not just the obvious big wins; film, director and male actor). If a sweep occurs, Deakins may be in trouble, otherwise he is taking home the Oscar!

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