If I’m being honest here, I’ll start this by saying that I went into True Grit with absolutely no bias to the original film. Full Disclosure: I’ve never read the book, I’ve never seen the original film, and really, I’m not a fan of the Coen Bros. films. I know, that last part can be seen as cinematic sacrilege but there you have it. I watched the trailers and thought it looked good, so I went. I like Westerns, although I’m not well versed in them but I like Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Josh Brolin. Those three names combined with that particular genre is what drew me in.
The story of True Grit is simple enough. It’s a tale that can pretty much be plugged into any genre, but sits comfortably in the embrace of the Western drama. Young Mattie Ross, charged with the task of tending to her recently murdered father’s affairs takes it upon herself to catch his killer, Tom Chaney and avenge her father’s death. With the assistance of curmudgeonly U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn and Texas Ranger LaBoeuf, the trio set out in search of the Ned Pepper Gang to find Chaney and bring him to justice.
Sounds pretty straightforward here in terms of basic plot right? It is. What sets this film apart are the characters. I really would like to wax poetic about Hailee Steinfeld. I could use every age old cliche in the book talking about this girl but I’m not going to. I will simply say that Hailee Steinfeld is a revelation. After having to endure the performances of one note actresses (I’m looking at you Jennifer Aniston) Steinfeld, even with her limited CV shows that she can not only handle but also out shine her A list co-stars.
Mattie is a plucky yet fiercely determined 14 year old. She doesn’t suffer fools lightly and she won’t stand to be taken advantage of. She proves this when she negotiates with a seasoned businessman and brings him, quite effectively, to his proverbial knees. Steinfeld has a gift for dialog and has the ability to deliver the long stretches of Old West language without so much as a pause. The set of her jaw and furrow of her brow also add to her character’s age, but also makes her seem a bit beyond her years. She’s a little spit fire and will gladly put anyone in their place that tries to get in her way.
When Mattie meets up with Cogburn and talks him into helping her, he’s left a bit bewildered and isn’t quite sure what to make of her. Cogburn is a crotchety old man with a salty disposition, a love of whiskey and an itchy trigger finger. He doesn’t think that Indian Territory is any place for a young girl but soon realizes that’s not a war he can win. Jeff Bridges is, with out a doubt, one of the finest actors Hollywood has. He brings 110% to every role and it’s really no different here. His laid back demeanor is still present, even though Cogburn’s edge is razor sharp. The term “cranky old man” is what comes to mind. When I watched the trailer for this I was a bit concerned about the gruffness of Bridges voice. It seemed a bit forced and I was concerned that would take me out of his performance. I’m quite happy to report that once the film started I didn’t even really notice it. This, once again, proves what a truly great actor he is.
LaBoeuf makes up the final third of the trio. He’s a Texas Ranger who is also on the trail of Tom Chaney for shooting a Senator. It’s an uneasy relationship LaBoeuf has with both Mattie and Cogburn. He argues with Mattie about where Chaney will eventually be brought to justice and argues with Cogburn about pretty much everything else. I do love Matt Damon and his performance as LaBoeuf was good. I won’t say grand because I don’t think anyone can outshine Steinfeld here. He played LaBoeuf just like the character needed him to. He’s a bit of a square and very by the book, almost to the point of being accused of having a stick shoved up him bum. I didn’t really have the warm and fuzzies for him until later in the film, but he showed his grit and came through in the end.
The one role that surprised me was that of Tom Chaney. Josh Brolin is a great actor and I like him a lot. However, I would have thought his screen time would have been a bit more extensive than it was. Especially considering the whole movie is centered around the capture of this elusive man. You get the impression by the description of Chaney that he’s either cunning and skillful, or lacking in the intelligence department. It’s not until you finally meet the character that you know for sure but I’m not going to spoil it for you here. I will just say I would have liked to have seen more of him.
This is a film that would best be viewed on the big screen simply because there are some amazingly beautiful shots that will be lost on a home theater system. One scene involving Cogburn and LaBoeuf having a shooting contest is the one that really stands out. I can really only think of one part that disappointed me and it was so blaring that it took me out of the film for a minute. Had it happened earlier in the film, it wouldn’t have been an issue, but it happened at a critical time toward the end.
Loving this film as much as I did, I feel like I should go back through the Coen Brothers catalog to see if perhaps I have had a change of heart. Maybe it’s their original material I don’t much care for and because this is based on established material, that’s why I like it. That’s an article for another time however.
As an introduction to the story of True Grit I’ll say that I loved what Coen’s and company did. It’s a great film and one I highly recommend.