© 2011 Ray Wong
The Coen brothers are known for their quirky original stories. Their remake of a John Wayne classic is so unlike their other films that it's a welcome diversion.
After Mattie Ross's (Hailee Steinfeld) father was murdered, she's determined to track down the killer, Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) and bring him to justice (dead or alive). The headstrong 14-year-old would not take no for an answer. She eventually convinces Reuben "Rooster" Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), considered the toughest US marshall, to help her find Chaney. Mattie wants Cogburn, because he has "true grit."
Meanwhile, Texas ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) is after Chaney for his own purpose. He wants to capture and take Chaney back to Texas, but Mattie insists that Chaney be tried in her town for the crime against her father. Soon, Mattie realizes she's been left behind as LaBoeuf's made a deal with Cogburn; the men has gone ahead without her to the Indian country. She follows them and insist on tagging along.
Their trek takes them on a dangerous paths, and they come across some unsavory people and criminals. Through the journey, Cogburn, Mattie and LaBoeuf get to know each other better, and their form an unlikely bond. Just when they give up ever finding Chaney, Mattie accidentally crosses paths with him. And her real challenge has only begun!
Jeff Bridges (TRON Legacy) is excellent in a role made famous by John Wayne, who won an Oscar for his portrayal of Cogburn. Bridges brings his own interpretation of the role, and it's an interesting and well-rendered one. Gruff, agitated, and drunk most of the time, Cogburn does show true grit, and Bridges has done a remarkable job with this three-dimensional and deeply flawed character.
Matt Damon (Hereafter), one of Hollywood's most overworked leading men, is somewhat miscast in the role of LaBoeuf. Don't get me wrong. He's good; but there's just something too contemporary about the actor that distracts me from his performance, and his Texas drawl is equally distracting.
The real star of the show, however, is Hailee Steinfeld, who steals all the scenes she's in. That's an improbably feat for any actor performing against veterans such as Bridges and Damon; it's even more amazing considering this is Steinfeld's first role, ever. She commands the screen, and her character is so well drawn that they fit each other perfectly. Her performance is breathtaking.
The supporting cast is great, including Josh Brolin (Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps) and Barry Pepper (Seven Pounds). But it's really a three-person movie.
Based on the 1969 movie and adapted directly from the source novel by Charles Portis, the screenplay by the Coen brothers (No Country for Old Men) is tight and fluid. From the opening frame and narration (by an older Mattie, played stoically by Elizabeth Marvel (A Dog Year)) to the final shot, the story flows well. The dialogue sounds oddly poetic yet true to the period. The serious drama is also chockfull of humor.
The Coen brothers have done a great job developing the characters and their relationships. The story is less about the quest, and more about how these people who share no common interests and backgrounds become unlikely friends, and how they eventually devote themselves to one another. The gradual development is remarkable, and you can't help but love and care about these characters.
The direction is, as expected, superb. The Coen brothers have a knack for Westerns. Great eyes, too. The production is handsome and the cinematography arresting. They've done a great job recreating the wild wild west. The pacing is right.
True Grit is probably one of the Coen brothers' most accessible films. It's well-made, well-written, and well-performed. It's a delight to watch. Normally I'm not a big fan of Westerns, but this movie holds my interest through and through, right up to the poignant ending, and I come out feeling moved and elated. I love these characters. I love this Western, and it takes some true grit for me to admit to that.
Stars: Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper, Elizabeth Marvel
Directors: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Writers: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen (based on Charles Portis's novel)
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some intense sequence of western violence and disturbing images
Running Time: 110 minutes
Script – 8
Performance – 9
Direction – 8
Cinematography – 8
Editing – 8
Production – 8
Total – 8 out of 10