Published on February 17th, 2011 | by dinglesurf2
Movie Review – True Grit
Over the past decade the Coen brothers have been following a peculiar releasing pattern. For every No Country For Old Men there’s been a Burn After Reading. For every O Brother, Where Art Thou? there’s an Intolerable Cruelty. So now that they turn their bespectacled eyes to one of film’s oldest genres, The Western, have they delivered yet another exquisite masterpiece or a kooky offbeat comedy? Well I’m pleased to report that it is the former.
True Grit follows young 14 year old Mattie Ross (played by newcomer Hailee Stienfield) as she hires a disreputable US Marshall, Ruben ‘Rooster’ Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to avenge her father’s death. Together with a Texas Ranger (Matt Damon) the curious posse head out into Cherokee country to track down the murderer (Josh Brolin). It’s a time-honoured horse opera story that delivers very little in the way of twists or surprises. But True Grit isn’t about trying anything new, it’s about capturing the good ol’ rootin’ tootin’ wild west in all its glory and capturing it right.
True Grit is a remake of the 1969 classic of the same name – although the Coen’s have stated that their inspiration for this version was the source novel by Charles Portis, and their superbly witty and signature Coen-esque script would support this. The original film earned John Wayne an Oscar for his portrayal as the one eyed hard-nosed Marshall ‘Rooster’. But instead of ‘The Duke’, the Coen’s True Grit stars ‘The Dude’, Jeff Bridges as the liqueured-up, shoot-first-ask-questions-later lawman. Bridges revels in his cantankerous, almost incoherent anti-hero and is in the same breath crooked, wise and often hilarious. He is admirably supported by Matt Damon, yet again showing that he has mastered the art of underplaying a role – even if his mustache looks borrowed from the set of Magnum PI!
However the brightest gem is newcomer Hailee Stienfield. Without her strong central performance as the sassy young avenger, the film would fall flat. She shows maturity beyond her years as she effortlessly carries the first act on her adolescent shoulders. Look out for her pitch perfect delivery as she masterfully outwits a wily horse trader that is surely an early contender for scene of the year – and perhaps the antitheses of a similar scene with Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men? The young actress strikes up a great chemistry with Bridges, and is thoroughly endearing throughout, while at the same time never dropping her steely guard. She is True Grit‘s most accessible character and it will be on her performance alone if the film is to have any crossover appeal.
This wouldn’t be a Western without mentioning the landscape and long time Coen collaborator Roger Deakins captures the hard plains of America in all their majesty. The touch of genius that was to set the film in the winter snow, brings a fresh dimension to these familiar dust bowl terrains. This is matched with a soaring string score that seamlessly continues the ode to cowboy films of old.
If you are not a fan of the Western, then True Grit is not going to change your mind. But fans of the the genre will enjoy a terrific ride through this homage to simple old style story telling. Invoking the works of Ford, Sturges and Leone, True Grit is funny, touching, beautifully written and proudly wears its genre status on its chest, like a shiny sheriff’s badge. Yeehaw indeed.