True Grit – A Review

27 01 2011

I can’t ever say I’ve been compelled to watch a western at any stage of my lifetime.  I don’t recall giving up my Saturday afternoons to engage in any of John Wayne’s films.  I find this somewhat ironic given that True Grit is not only a western I felt compelled to see, but it is also a remake of the film that scored Wayne an Oscar in 1969.  In this adaptation of Charles Portis‘ novel of the same name, Joel and Ethan Coen have written and directed a truly masterful story for the screen.

The film’s central character is a headstrong 14-year-old girl, Mattie Ross (welcome, Hailee Steinfeld) whose father was murdered by the hired hand, Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin).  While attending to the business of returning her father’s body to the homestead for burial, Mattie seeks the services of a local Deputy US Marshal to bring the killer to justice; by hanging or by shooting in such western times.  Of the names she is offered, it is the gruff, one-eyed, merciless Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) that she settles on.

On Chaney’s tail for a number of months is Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), who pompously attempts to prevent Mattie from joining in the hunt.  An action that not only allows the teenager to demonstrate her own ‘true grit’ for the cause, but exposes the softer side of Cogburn’s character.  They are an unlikely posse, and there are well-placed moments of comedy as they head into an unforgiving country on a seemingly impossible adventure.

While Bridges is perfect in his portrayal of Cogburn; the grouchy drunkard presenting himself as more of a useless bum than an effective lawman, and Damon proves himself as a versatile actor bringing the smug and quip of LaBoeuf to life, it is Steinfeld who truly stands out in this film.  Where did she come from?  Her 40-year-old voice might narrate the story, but the youthful Steinfeld acts with a presence well beyond her years.  Her steely determination is at the heart of what is ultimately a quest of revenge.

Probably most surprising is the classic approach to storytelling that the Coen brothers have applied here.  The characters are offbeat without being overdone, the language is true to the era and intrigues, the landscape is desolate and unforgiving as we would expect.  It is outstanding, and makes True Grit one of the must-see movies for 2011. 

The Verdict: 4.5 out of 5

Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen; screenplay by Joel and Ethan Coen; based on  True Grit by Charles Portis; director of photography, Roger Deakins; editor, Roderick Jaynes (Joel and Ethan Coen); music by Carter Burwell; production designer, Jess Goncher; produced by Joel and Ethan Coen, Scott Rudin; released by Paramount Pictures, Skydance Productions and Scott Rudin Productions.  Running time 1hr 50mins.

WITH: Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Hailee Steinfeld, Barry Pepper, Domhnall Gleeson, Ed Lee Corbin, RoyLee Jones, Paul Rae, Nicholas Sadler, Bruce Green, Joe Stevens, Dakin Matthews, Elizabeth Marvel, Leon Russom, Jake Walker, Peter Leung, Don Pirl, Jarlath Conroy.

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