True Grit Review
It's been a good year for Jeff Bridges. Not only does he get to return to his roots in Tron: Legacy, he gets to return to the roots of another famous actor in True Grit: John Wayne. A remake of the 1969 western classic, Bridges co-stars with Matt Damon, Josh Brolin and upcoming actress Hailee Steinfeld. Big name actors alone wouldn't carry this film, so who else than the Coen Brothers to take the rein and send off a surprisingly fantastic Western. Incorporating humor, violence, and drama, there is a lot straddled here, but every element of the film is a success.
The Coen Brothers are practically notorious for these sort of films. Love letters to long-lost Americana, True Grit is the latest Coen Brothers film with bewildering modernity and humor clashed up against sometimes very dark elements. Fargo, O Brother Where Art Thou?, No Country for Old Men, and The Big Lebowski are just some of the predecessors to True Grit, and true to form, this film takes on serious subjects with just enough off-beat lightness to leave a potentially dark film effervescent.
Like many Coen Brothers films, True Grit is often hilarious, something the trailers hide. Bucking the trend that all Westerns of late need to be a dark, three hour opus based upon a Cormac McCarthy novel, True Grit moves at a swift clip. While the few scenes of violence are startling, Bridges and Damon's performance as the drunken Rooster Cogburn and the moronic Texan La Boeuf, respectively, usually transform these moments into something to laugh about.
Life and death become something goofy that Cogburn just watches from the side, and Bridges performs the character with relish. Damon borders on caricature as the noble La Boeuf, quick to espouse upon the greatness that is Texas as the rest roll their eyes. He spends half the film with a swollen tongue, and fluctuates from noble Texas ranger to silly man. Surprisingly, it works. Finally, Coen-favorite Brolin as the killer Tom Chaney is perfect, a stupidly confusable Western villain more threatening in name than action. It's unfortunate that he spends so little on screen.
The real star of the show is Steinfeld. At thirteen, she's the latest in young actresses to show up in a film and set the real standard for acting abilities. Normally, I'm one disgusted by precocious children in films, finding them to be irritating. Haley Joel Osmont, Macauly Culkin, Dakota Fanning, etc. once in their life acted out preternaturally smart, witty, and adorable children. Steinfeld's performance as Mattie Ross could have easily fallen into this realm, as the intelligent young girl who acts as if everyone around her is stupider than she.
However, and maybe this is due to Coen Brothers, Mattie is more than just smart. She's driven, and will get anything that she wants, regardless of the consequences. Instead of just bossing people around her, she'll step up and get the job done herself if no one will listen to her. Her age and gender is something she has no problem fighting against. Rarely is there a 14-year-old character who acts twice her age that believable, yet Steinfeld pulls it off. She is not exactly cute, as her sleek and formal pigtail braids attest, and she's strictly business, but in her eyes, she may not be better than Cogburn and La Boeuf, but she is certainly their equal.
Apparently this version of True Grit remains truer to the original novel by Charles Portis, but like many Westerns, there is not much driving the characters forward. Tom Chaney, is a known outlaw, and the murderer of Mattie's father. Not even upset about this, Mattie goes about making sure she can get her revenge, hiring Cogburn to take her and hunt him down. La Boeuf joins them, as he too is trying to turn Chaney in. And that's about it, the three of them setting off to either turn this criminal in, or kill him trying.
Not much even happens, character progression is minimal, but there grows a special union between these three different people. There is a touching unity that builds, and then the film ends. Probably the biggest complaint about True Grit is a somewhat dissatisfying ending. While it is entirely passable, something hard to define is missing from the last 10 minutes of the film. It certainly fits the nature of the movie, but a better represented closure for the characters would be appreciated. However, as it stands, True Grit is one of the best films of the year, a fantastically acted, fantastically directed Western that doesn't act on pretensions. That's a very good thing.