Posted November 26, 2010 by Marcia Degia - Publisher in Films

True Grit

The Coen brothers regularly
entertain with both comedy misadventures and harder-hitting awards-baiting
masterpieces in equal amount but, with an
incomparable back catalogue of consistently
brilliant films, their judgment in
choosing projects is never questioned. Therefore, when it was
announced that the pair were tackling a remake of John Wayne classic True Grit,
the internet furore that would normally result from such a revelation was
instead replaced with coos of excitement, and rightly so, as the Coen Brothers
have yet again crafted
a gripping story with sharp dialogue on a
beautifully-shot landscape.

This remake follows the
same, very simple, premise as its originator – a 14-year-old farm girl named
Mattie Ross (Steinfeld) plans on tracking down her father’s killer, a wreckless
criminal called Tom Chaney (Brolin). In doing so, she hires tough old US
marshal Reuben J. ‘Rooster’ Cogburn
who reluctantly agrees to find Chaney. Along the way, the unlikely duo are also
joined by Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Damon) who has been on the trail of Chaney for
many months.

With Cogburn set to prove
that he is not a washed-up old has-been, and LaBoeuf striving to keep his pride
and dignity, it is Mattie who steers the way in her unwavering determination
to bring her father’s murderer to justice
. Together, the three run into many unexpected surprises and dangers,
all while bickering on this road trip of sorts.

Though, from the outset,
this straightforward Western remake seems like an unlikely addition to the Coen
Brothers’ filmography, it doesn’t take long before their familiar oddball
sense of humour shines through with eccentric characters and pitch-perfect
. With reams of dialogue
filling up most of the screen-time, and delivered in an Old West drawl, it can
sometimes be hard to keep up, but unequivocal attention is repaid with incisive
wit in almost every exchange.

Steinfeld provides the rock
of the movie with a brilliant performance as the remarkably sharp-witted and
capable Mattie that is thoroughly deserving of her Supporting Actress Oscar
(although that certainly
stretches the definition of ‘supporting’), and Matt Damon’s turn as the pompous
and straight-laced LaBoeuf is so expertly executed he is, at times, completely

It is, however, Jeff
Bridges’ Rooster Cogburn who steals the show. Delivering his dialogue as if he
is chewing on each word and spitting out each syllable, Bridges instantly makes
this craggy anti-hero a joy to watch and, while the character’s alcoholism
seems to come and go only as and when it suits the script, Bridges manages
to command respect at the same time as eliciting laughs
. To be fair, it is the kind of role that the
seasoned actor could play in his sleep, but this does not make the transition
any less impressive, nor the result any less entertaining.

With this film, the Coen
Brothers rarely take a wrong step, but one immediately apparent criticism is
their insistence on introducing peculiar peripheral characters that bare no
consequence to the main thrust of the film. During their travels, Mattie and
Rooster encounter a so-called doctor dressed as a bear for apparently no
reason, as well as a member of Chaney’s criminal gang who appears to only
communicate in various farmyard animal noises. At these times, it just seems
like the Coens are introducing crazy for crazy’s sake, and this ultimately makes the script feel as though
it is reaching for humour.

This up-to-date True Grit
is, however, an utter triumph, mixing rich storytelling and the Coen Brothers’
singular brand of humour against a backdrop of the classic, epic Western.
Despite, what comes across as an undeservingly rushed final scene, True Grit
is an easy leading contender for many of the important Oscars this year
, and it’s hard to argue that the film is not worthy
of winning every single one.

Marcia Degia - Publisher

Marcia Degia has worked in the media industry for more than 10 years. She was previously Acting Managing Editor of Homes and Gardens magazine, Publishing Editor at Macmillan Publishers and Editor of Pride Magazine. Marcia, who has a Masters degree in Screenwriting, has also been involved in many broadcast projects. Among other things, she was the devisor of the documentary series Secret Suburbia for Living TV.