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'True Grit' Movie Review

About.com Rating 5 Star Rating
User Rating 3.5 Star Rating (4 Reviews)

By

Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld in 'True Grit'

Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld in 'True Grit'

© Paramount Pictures
First, can we just get the 'remake' issue out of the way right off the bat? This is not a remake of the 1969 John Wayne film which won The Duke his first and only Oscar. This True Grit is based solely and completely on the Charles Portis novel, and in fact the Coen Brothers, Ethan and Joel, say they barely remember the '69 film and did not set out to recreate director Henry Hathaway's version of Portis' book. Jeff Bridges isn't doing John Wayne (if anything he's doing The Dude if The Big Lebowski character found himself in a Western), and no member of the cast was asked to view the original film to see how to interpret their characters.
What the Coen Brothers have done with the 2010 True Grit is make a Western for the ages. Old-time cowboys and the Wild West come alive once more in this beautifully shot, brilliantly cast, classically told Western. Infused with humor and lifting a large portion of the lyrically magical words straight from Portis' book, True Grit is a real departure for the Coens in terms of tone, but it's truer to the traditional Western than any film of the past 30 years. True Grit's got hangings, shoot-outs, bad guys who shoot first and good guys who let their words do battle before resorting to firearms. True Grit is a Western steeped in the grand tradition of the genre, a lushly photographed love letter to bygone days when cowboys had swagger and true grit, and colorful outlaws often met their maker at the hands of vigilantes.

The Story

Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges sounding a bit like a more educated version of Billy Bob Thornton from Sling Blade) is a straight-talking, hard-drinking lawman who doesn't see in grays. It's a black and white world to Rooster, and he's always in the right.

Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) is a tenacious 14-going-on-30 year old who comes to Fort Smith, Arkansas to complete her father's unfinished business. Her father, Frank, was shot dead by the criminal Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) after an argument over Chaney's gambling losses, and Mattie - who's obviously the brains of her family - is determined to get revenge for her father's murder. She doesn't want to bring in Chaney to be tried; she wants to shoot him dead herself. And after an introduction in which we see her outwit an elderly businessman and turn a tidy profit on her deceased father's ponies and other possessions (some of which were stolen by Chaney), Mattie hooks up with Rooster to track down the cowardly Chaney.

Matt Damon in 'True Grit'

Matt Damon in 'True Grit'

© Paramount Pictures
The third player in the mix is a Texas Ranger named LeBoeuf (Matt Damon). Now apparently Texas Rangers think highly of themselves, a fact which irritates lawmen from other states to no end. It also annoys Mattie who's confronted by LeBoeuf while in bed at a boarding house awaiting the start of her adventure with Rooster. LeBoeuf invites himself along on the chase as he's also been looking for Chaney without any luck, which earns harsh words from Mattie over LeBoeuf's lack of tracking skills.

After a rough start in which the two men try and ditch the persistent Mattie, the threesome set out across the plains to find Chaney. The lawmen quickly discover not only is Mattie as stubborn, fearless and sharp-tongued as they come, she's also whip smart and determined to not have her quest for justice be denied.

The Acting

Although initially it's slightly difficult to understand Jeff Bridges as Rooster, it quickly becomes easy to pick out the words and fall into the rhythm of the dialogue (the lack of contractions starts off a little off-putting before settling in comfortably). Bridges is, after all, playing a drunkard so if his words slur it just makes his portrayal of the grizzled lawman that much more authentic. And don't even try and compare this performance with John Wayne's as Bridges has created his own version of Rooster Cogburn, the reluctant companion of an unflinching 14 year old ball of fire who, it should be said, he treats as an adult after their initial meeting. This Rooster's more eager for a drink than he is to bring in an outlaw, and more willing to settle matters by shooting at whatever angers him.

Matt Damon's incredibly fun to watch as the Texas Ranger who takes himself and his work dead seriously, even when no one else does. And when Bridges and Damon square off in verbal duels, it's the audience that wins. Barry Pepper and Josh Brolin show up in key supporting roles as Lucky Ned Pepper and Tom Chaney, and while their screen time is extremely limited, they make quite an impression in the latter half of the film.

True Grit's veteran actors meet their match in newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, an unbelievable young actress who seems as though she could have been lifted straight out of the pages of Portis' novel. Steinfeld's charged with delivering some of the most difficult dialogue of the film, and each line uttered packs a wallop as she doesn't just recite the lines but understands the importance of each and every word. No one in the cast comes close to capturing the musicality of the writing the way young Steinfeld does.

Hailee Steinfeld in 'True Grit'

Hailee Steinfeld in 'True Grit'

© Paramount Pictures

The Bottom Line

True Grit seemed to be a surprising choice for the Coens when it was initially announced, but after viewing the film it's obvious why they wanted to sink their teeth into Portis' work. The revenge story is timeless, and Portis' True Grit's delicious dialogue had to be too tempting to pass over. It may not fit in perfectly with their past projects, but the True Grit they've delivered is unmistakably a Coen endeavor. The filmmaking brothers are a perfect match for the material, and 2010's True Grit turned out to be one of the best films of the year.

GRADE: A

True Grit was directed by Joel and Ethan Coen and is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of western violence including disturbing images.

Theatrical Release Date: December 22, 2010

Disclaimer: This review is based on a screening provided by the studio. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
User Reviews

Reviews for this section have been closed.

 5 out of 5
Much Better Than Original, Member ldolson

Come on, people, even John Wayne admitted that the original True Grit wasn't that good (though he was, of course, great in it). The Coen brother's take on the book is much richer, the acting as a whole is much better (you can barely even compare Kim Darby to Hailee Steinfeld, who should get the Oscar IMO) , the script is great, and the cinematography is amazing. It would be one thing if this was an attempted remake of Casablanca or Citizen Kane. It is not!

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