Synopsis: A 14-year-old girl joins an aging U.S. marshal and another lawman in tracking her father’s killer into hostile Indian territory in Joel and Ethan Coen’s adaptation of Charles Portis’ original novel, True Grit.
Release Date: December 22, 2010 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Drama, Western
In contrast to the original 1969 film starring John Wayne, the Coen’s version of True Grit stays true to the Charles Portis novel by telling the story through the eyes of young Mattie Ross, played convincingly by newcomer Hailee Steinfeld. Mattie’s father is killed by a fugitive named Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), she hires an old U.S. Marshal named Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), and in simple, straightforward, classic Western style, they set out on the Arkansas frontier to kill Chaney and regain justice.
Just as the Coens’ stay sincere to the original source material, the Old West has never looked and felt so authentic on film. With beautifully meticulous art direction and costume design shot by master cinematographer Roger Deakins, the sepia-soaked filth and grime of a dusty wooden city look as if the movie itself was painted in 1870. Even more authentic, The Coen brothers, as screenwriters, have always had an ear for great dialogue and that talent is showcased to great effect as the authenticity of language in True Grit is reason enough to make the trip to the theater.
Where else, but in a Western would one hear a character craving ‘pickled buffalo tongue’? Remarkable authenticity aside, the film ultimately lacks any kind of show-stopping scenes that would evoke any real emotion and thus True Grit fails at resonating once the viewer leaves the theater. There may be a climactic showdown here and a few inglorious acts of ugly violence there, but this is still a Western where thrilling adventure is not a priority. Being unconcerned with the build-up to cheap thrills and sentimental catharsis is understandable, but where are the Coens’ audiences have come to expect?
Fans expecting a darkly comic reinvention of the genre will only be partially satisfied. True Grit is by no means a bad film, it’s actually great filmmaking with great actors navigating the sacrifices required to bring one common nobody to justice. With that said, it’s also nothing new, which is disappointing considering the dynamic duo saddled up behind the camera.
Dialogue, well written and authentic as it could possibly be, would still be nothing without incredibly gifted actors able to bring the characters to life. True Grit strikes gold with its entire cast: Josh Brolin in the small, but vital role of Tom Chaney, Barry Pepper in his minimal screen time as Lucky Ned Pepper, Matt Damon as the quick to defend himself Texas Ranger LaBoeuf, and of course Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn and Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross.
The fact that he already won the Best Actor Oscar for his turn in last year’s Crazy Heart has not deterred veteran thespian Jeff Bridges from giving a role complete dedication. As the old, fat, and drunk U.S. marshall, Rooster Cogburn, Bridges is so completely in character that the audience never believes his dozen or so ramblings of old war stories to be anything except the truth.
Whether it is the divorce from his wife or how he took on seven outlaws on his own, Bridges is completely sincere even if being intoxicated tends to slur his speech. As hilarious as Cogburn is as he drinks his remaining days away, it’s nothing short of remarkable seeing how quickly Bridges can bring his character back to tough as nails poise when death is concerned, and with one eye none the less. Witnessing the washed-up soul he has become, Jeff Bridges gives Cogburn a sense of tragedy while simultaneously leaving the viewer in wonderment of who he once was. (Prequel please!)
The real star of the film, however, is newcomer Hailee Steinfeld. As young 14-year old Mattie Ross with the conviction to capture, kill, and bring her father’s murderer to justice, this is not at all your average Hanna Montana. Mattie is by no means a cold-blooded killer, but simply a smart young girl with perseverance and an uncanny understanding of the law. She may have two long braids, but don’t let that fool you.
Steinfeld masters the Coen brothers’ original southern dialogue in an entertaining scene in which Matte bargains and outwits a horse trader. Steinfeld gives her character so much strength and such a no-nonsense attitude, it’s incredibly refreshing considering the number of utterly passive and vulnerable teenage girl alternatives the cinema has to offer. Hailee Steinfeld is an incredible find and it should be interesting to see what career path she takes after she scores an earned Oscar nomination next month.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Ethan Coen, Joel Cohen
- Producer(s): Scott Rudin
- Screenwriters: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, Charles Portis
- Cast: Jeff Bridges (Rooster Cogburn), Hailee Steinfeld (Mattie Ross), Matt Damon (LaBoeuf), Josh Brolin (Tom Chaney), Barry Pepper (Lucky Ned Pepper)
- Editor(s): Roderick Jaynes
- Cinematographer: Roger Deakins
- Production Designer(s): Jess Gonchor
- Country Of Origin: USA