January 8, 2012
"True Grit" is a Western. It was once a 1969 movie starring John Wayne. However, the Brothers Coen have chosen to adapt the Charles Portis' novel, not remake Wayne's movie. That is probably the best thing to do, instead of risking to desecrate a revered Western classic.
I am not much of a fan of Westerns. However, "True Grit" can really grab your attention up to the very end. Unlike other Coen projects, the storyline of "True Grit" is quite easy to comprehend and like. (Sorry, but I totally did NOT like their Oscar Best Picture winner "No Country for Old Men.")
The main protagonist in this film is Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld). She is a precocious, self-confident and strong-willed 14 year old girl who wants to bring her father's killer Ton Chaney to justice. To do this, she hires the services of the toughest of Marshalls, "Rooster" Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), whom she decided was the one with "true grit." Together with Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), the three unlikely "pardners" brave the wild wild West to search for, capture or kill the outlaw Chaney (Josh Brolin).
For a second year in a row, Jeff Bridges tackles another inebriated character from the country, Bad Blake from "Crazy Heart" (which won him an Oscar Best Actor award) and now, Rooster Cogburn (which has him aiming for the same award again this year). He can play these souses very realistically, at the same time making these annoying characters actually interesting and even sympathetic.
Matt Damon is really amazing here as LaBeouf (which is pronounced in the movie as LaBeef). He plays pretty much against type, a rather comic character, the straight guy to Cogburn's humorous digs. You would not even immediately recognize him here. I am glad he is getting Supporting Actor nomination buzz as well for this most offbeat role!
As the 14 year old Mattie, Hailee Steinfeld (born 1997) stands equally with her illustrious senior co-stars in terms of acting chops and screen presence. She is believable as a fearless and headstrong youngster who stopped at nothing to avenge her father's death, despite the character being so totally unbelievable (especially the way we know 14 year-olds these days). The award-giving bodies are having trouble deciding whether her role should be cited as Best Lead Actress or as Best Supporting Actress. For me, there is no question that she plays the lead role here, her tender age notwithstanding.
For all fans of Westerns and film lovers in general, this version of "True Grit" is a must-watch. As a whole, the execution of the story is quite wholesome, suitable for the (not too) young and old. Everyone will rally behind Mattie's quest and cheer her on. Of course, as a Coen Brothers' project, there are some pretty gruesome violent scenes (especially the scene about a guy's fingers), so be alert if you are queasy. Nevertheless, this movie is bound to be a classic on its own merits, apart from its illustrious predecessor.