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Review: True Grit

True Grit
12.16.2010
9 10

PLOT: After her father is murdered, young Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) hires an aging U.S Marshall, Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to help her bring the killer, Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) to justice.

REVIEW: Believe the hype. TRUE GRIT is an absolutely killer Western, and the Coen’s leanest, meanest work since NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. Less a remake of the old 1969 John Wayne flick (which won him his only Oscar), and more a new adaptation of the original novel by Charles Portis, TRUE GRIT is the Coen Bros first true, period western and the genre fits them like a glove. This shouldn’t really come as a surprise as many of their earlier films had a Western flavor, with NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN essentially being a modern oater.


One of the great things about TRUE GRIT is that the Coens seem to be having a ball playing with cowboys. This is the most infectiously fun Coen Bros., film since O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU, although when the violence hits, it hits hard. Bridges in particular seems to be having a ball playing Cogburn. This isn’t Bridges’ first western, with him having appeared in the likes of BAD COMPANY, WILD BILL, and others. He truly seems at home as the cantankerous, drunken Cogburn. While Wayne played him more as lovably crotchety, Bridges gives him more of an edge.

I got a kick out of watching TRUE GRIT only a day after seeing TRON: LEGACY as Bridges is so wildly different here, you’d have trouble believing you were watching the same person if you didn’t know better. In his hands, Cogburn is a mean, vicious old bastard, but also one that’s trustworthy, and perhaps inherently noble. His chemistry with fourteen year-old Hallie Steinfeld as Mattie gives the film its heart. Steinfeld, who hasn’t done much before this, is revelatory as Ross. In the original 1969 film, she was played by Kim Darby, who- to put it kindly, wasn’t all that great in the role.

Steinfeld is incredible, giving the character wisdom far beyond her years but also having her occasionally fall prey to her own youthful vulnerability such as her girlish love for her pet pony Blackie. I’d love to see Steinfeld pull in an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress (although one could argue it’s more of a lead).


Making the third part of our star trio is Matt Damon as the braggadocios Texas Ranger LaBoeuf. He carries himself as sort of an aristocrat of the old West, with his prominent spurs, and constant chatter garnering him much scorn from Cogburn. Damon plays the role for laughs, and is a massive improvement over ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’ Glen Campbell, who played the role in the original film.

As for Brolin, the role of Tom Chaney is actually smaller than you might expect, with him not making an appearance until about eighty minutes in. Rather than play Chaney as a brute, Brolin actually plays him as a bit of a buffoon, with him being little more his outlaw boss ‘Lucky’ Ned Pepper’s errand boy. It’s a great role for Brolin, and to say it’s more successful than his other 2010 western (JONAH HEX) is a massive understatement.


As the vicious, but somewhat noble outlaw ‘Lucky Ned’ Pepper, we get another Pepper, Barry. It’s good to see Barry Pepper carve out a niche for himself as a character actor after being unfairly tainted by BATTLEFIELD: EARTH, and he does a fine job filling in for Robert Duvall, who originally played the role. He gives Pepper an air of humanity, although scraggly beard, teeth, and saliva spewing speech make him look a bit like a rabid dog.

It’s worth mentioning that the only part of the film that seems directly lifted from the original TRUE GRIT is the final showdown between Cogburn and Pepper, with the same dialogue, and a few similar shots being used. Other than that, the two films don’t have too much in common, other than the bare essentials of the story. One of the most unique aspects of TRUE GRIT is the old-timey Western dialogue as spewed by a bunch of Coen Bros., regulars in various colorful supporting parts. Many have singled out Dakin Matthews as Col. Stonehill, who has two sequences opposite Steinfeld where they haggle about the price of horseflesh that are gems. I also loved Ed Corbin in a tiny, hilarious scene, as the aptly named ‘Bear Man’, with a fascination for dentistry and frontier medicine.

As is usual for a Coen Bros film, TRUE GRIT is also a striking-looking film, with it being shot in a somewhat muted pallet in the dead of winter by genius cinematographer Roger Deakins, while Carter Burwell supplies the moody, subtle score.

Suffice to say, I really loved TRUE GRIT, and it makes the strongest case for a full scale Western comeback I’ve seen since TOMBSTONE (note: that's not to say that was the last good Western. THE PROPOSITION, ASSASINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD, and DEADWOOD on HBO are all great. It's just that TRUE GRIT makes a good case for it commercially.). Hopefully this won’t be the last time the Coens’ make a western saga, period or otherwise. Like always, I’m eager to see what they come up with next, as they remain two of the most consistent filmmakers in Hollywood.

Source: JoBlo.com

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