Ethan and Joel Coen’s remake of the 1969 classic True Grit sparkles with dark humor and lovely cinematography reminiscent of John Ford westerns.
Steinfeld an actor to watch
Top billing should go to Hailee Steinfeld as spunky Mattie Ross. True Grit is her movie. The rest of the cast complements her admirably.
It’s 14-year-old Mattie who hires Marshal Rooster Cogburn to avenge the shooting death of her father. He is the angriest if not the best bounty hunter, she is told. He has grit, the determination to get the job done.
Kim Darby was 22 when she portrayed Mattie in the original. Steinfeld (who was 13 during filming) commands the screen as a determined, fast-talking Arkansas girl who insists on tracking down the felon Tom Chaney. She is all spunk and emotionally direct.
Bridges fills John Wayne’s shoes
Jeff Bridges updates John Wayne’s Cogburn as an ominous rascal with a heart of gold. Yet Bridges may have relied too heavily on Crazy Heart’s Bad Blake as his inspiration. This Rooster is sloshed a bit too often. Ultimately though, Bridges delivers a grittier, warmer performance than the Duke’s.
Matt Damon plays Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (pronounced “LaBeef”) with deadpan self-importance. Damon is pursuing Chaney for his own reasons. A hefty bounty awaits him if he can return the killer to Texas, where he killed a senator. Damon’s rough and gentle flirtation with Mattie adds interest.
The legendary, one-eyed Rooster isn’t about to let LaBoeuf outdo him. The two decide to travel together, then apart, in pursuit of Chaney. Neither wants young Mattie tagging along.
Mattie insists on accompanying Cogburn and LaBoeuf into Choctaw territory. She wants to capture Chaney alive and bring him to justice for her father. Dramatically, she fords a river on horseback to keep up with the two men. The scene is marred only when Mattie confronts the pair on the opposite shore – completely dry.
Brolin’s criminal mind
Josh Brolin does well in his brief appearance as sly, desperate and slow-witted Chaney. On the run, Brolin has been traveling with Lucky Ned Pepper (originally played by Robert Duvall, brought to life here by scraggly-bad Barry Pepper). Chaney underestimates Mattie at his peril.
The Coens relied on the novel True Grit by Charles Portis to evoke the period. Each character’s voice reflects Portis’ rich dialogue. The words are chosen thoughtfully. Characters describe their world with flair, rage, or bemused wonderment. Words like “remonstrate” and “depradations” add aural richness and dimension. These heroes do not use contractions.
True Grit evokes a sense of camaraderie among strangers. In pioneer times, each encounter was savored. Conversations hold weight and significance. The faces of the film’s extras convey all the hardship and valor of the era. The Coens’ editing keeps lumbering action moving along with purpose.
Roger Deakins provides rich, evocative cinematography, most beautifully in a scene shot beneath a brilliant night sky. At a public hanging in the town square, Mattie looks on amidst the assembled townsfolk.
In an iconic scene Cogburn, reins in his teeth, rides directly into a phalanx of criminals, his two guns blazing. Mattie’s fall into a snake-filled cave provides another symbolic moment. (4 out of 5 stars)
True Grit 2010 / PG-13 / 1 hour, 50 min
Cast Overview: Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Hailee Steinfeld, Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper
Director: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Genres: Drama, Western, Adventure