starring Hailee Steinfeld, Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, and Barry Pepper
written & directed by Joel & Ethan Coen
based on the novel by Charles Portis
Paramount Pictures (2010)
It has been so long since I saw the classic John Wayne film, watching this iteration of True Grit was like seeing the story unfold for the first time all over again. And I think the experience was the better for it.
Mattie Ross (Steinfeld) is an unflappable fourteen-year-old girl in search of a marshal to track down the man who shot and killed her father. Unable to compel the law at Fort Smith to take up her cause, she manages to enlist a gruff drunkard of a marshal named Rooster Cogburn (Bridges). While Cogburn has the ruthlessness to apprehend Tom Chaney (Brolin), the killer is on the run in hostile territory in Arkansas, so enter a Texas Ranger named LaBoeuf (Damon) who has been on Chaney's trail for months. Together, the trio set off in the wilderness to find, capture, and in Mattie's case, kill Chaney.
Now, I'm not one who usually gravitates towards directors when it comes to my movie preferences, but I've noticed over the years that I have yet to be really disappointed by a Joel and Ethan Coen's films. These two guys seem to really know how to tap into good storytelling with outstanding characters. The intro feels a tip of the hat to the westerns of old, and I kind of wondered at first if they were doing something like that, but the rest of the movie really strikes its own chord and doesn't feel like anything from those old westerns. It felt more like the modernized westerns, a la Unforgiven and that 3:10 to Yuma remake from a couple years ago. Gritty, hard-bitten stuff.
Hailee Steinfeld does a remarkable job as Mattie, considering this was her first movie, and seeing her in the DVD extras looking like one of those gals fresh off the Disney factor line, I was a wee bit surprised at the caliber of actor she's bound to be. Jeff Bridges, on the other hand, seemed to be playing a campy characterization of his character. I'd have to go back and read the book, since this movie is taken from the book rather than a remake of the John Wayne film, but Bridges was just eating up the scenery with his over-the-top performance. Oh, I loved the performance, don't get me wrong, but given the accolades heaped on him for this movie, I was expecting something much different. Oddly enough, it was Matt Damon who stole the show for me as the swellheaded Texas Ranger, LaBoeuf (pronounced LaBeef by Bridges).
The story and the characters develop so well through the first two-thirds of the film, that by the time Chaney finally shows up and the plot really kicks into gear, you almost don't want to see it come. At least I found I didn't, since I was so wrapped up in the interactions between Mattie, Cogburn, and LaBeef. That said, seeing Josh Brolin and Barry Pepper--an unrecognizable Pepper thanks to make-up and prosthetic teeth--play such scoundrels was a treat and made for great antagonists for the ragtag trio.
The movie is easy to recommend to anyone, whether they're a fan of westerns or not. It's just a really fun, kind of poignant film, and should appeal to all ages.