True Grit is the first Coen brothers movie that I’ve ever enjoyed. That’s got to count for something right? Unlike most critics, I’ve never been impressed with films like A Serious Man, No Country For Old Men, Burn After Reading etc. For some reason the Coen brothers’ films have just never done much for me, that is until True Grit came along. After playing around with Western elements for so long, the Coens have finally given us their first true picture in the genre.
Remaking a classic film is always a hard thing to do but I think the Coens have succeeded here. I’m not going to bother comparing it to the original. Yes, I’ve seen the original but I feel that the remake should be judged as a stand alone film. That being said, I will answer the question that you’re probably all wondering. Is it better than the original? Yes, it is.
Sticking close to the original, the story follows a young 14 year old girl named Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld). Mattie’s father has just been murdered by Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) and to say Mattie is determined to get revenge would be an understatement. She’s driven and doesn’t care about anything else. The problem is, at only 14 years old, she isn’t exactly capable of tracking down Chaney on her own. To assist her, she hires U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges). Along the way, they meet up with Texas Ranger La Boeuf (Matt Damon). La Boeuf is also looking for Chaney, to bring him to justice for a murder he committed in Texas. Together, the three set off to find Chaney and bring him to justice.
While offering an engaging story, True Grit really shines when it comes to the characters and the world they inhabit. This is due not only to some great writing but also to some standout acting. In Hailee Steinfeld they have found a true acting talent. Similar to Chloe Moretz in Kick-Ass, Steinfeld, only 13 at the time of filming, gives a performance that is simply terrific and at such a young age, her maturity is astonishing. She steals every scene she’s in as the stylized language proves no match for her. Mattie’s determination and no-nonsense attitude is portrayed effectively and Steinfeld is is truly superb. She holds her own against esteemed actors like Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon, ruling the screen in every frame. You can expect to see her name on the Oscar ballot this year.
The other lead, Jeff Bridges, hot off an Oscar win for Best Actor, gives an authentic performance that could see him landing Oscar gold again this year. Grizzled and speaking in drunken slurs, he gives us an exciting (although a bit hammed up) performance that is one of his finest. Losing himself in the role, he provides a great anti-hero in Cogburn.
Damon while not given as much screen time as the two leads, also provides solid work in his supporting role. He provides some laughs and the verbal battles between him and Bridges are especially funny. Bridges and Steinfeld do eclipse him and it’s far from his best performance, but it does work and is far better than Glen Campbell’s take on the character.
This is very much a film driven by its characters. They’re all very rich and serve as the most memorable part of the film, particularly the dialogue and interactions between them. The amusing banter between this colorful crew, brought about by the Coen brothers terrific pacing in their writing, makes the film very enjoyable and truly memorable. One scene in particular, where Mattie tries to bargain with a shop owner is one of the best scenes I’ve seen in a movie all year.
It’s a wildly entertaining film that is well made in all aspects. It shines on all technical fronts, whether it be score, costumes, production design, cinematography etc. Every shot has a purpose, every line of dialogue works, every scene plays out well and overall, everything just clicks. True Grit is a classic revenge tale with some outstanding performances. Coen fans will be pleased as all their classic trademarks are here, including but not limited to, the dark humor, Roger Deakins’ cinematography, Carter Burwell’s score etc. The Coens have made a splendid adaptation that deserves to be seen. It’s one of the best films of the year and will surely take home some Oscar gold.