The Coen Brothers view of Charles Portis' novel True Grit is a bit darker and even grittier than the original movie version of the book. The reaction to the movie will be based on the reaction of those who want to see the movie as an entertainment, and those who want it to be swept up in the Coen Brothers world. Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon star in this remake and while Bridges is definitely good in the role of Rooster Cogburn, he is no John Wayne. There are legends and then there are the others.
The plot of the movie centers on Mattie Ross (newcomer Hailee Steinfeld). It is the 1880's and she has seen her father murdered by outlaw Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) and now she wants justice. She seeks it by hiring U S Marshall Rooster Cogburn (Bridges) to track him down. They are joined on the hunt by Texas Ranger LaBeouf (Damon) who has his own reasons for going after Chaney.
Cogburn is a fat, one-eyed man who is possibly a drunk. He also has the reputation of bringing in the people he seeks dead or alive, mostly dead. This perfectly matches Mattie's criteria for who she wants to be doing the hunting.
It is a rough road these three choose to travel and the possibility of death meets them at every turn. Cogburn is a persistent hunter and he is constantly spurred on by fourteen year old Mattie. LaBeouf manages to antagonize both Rooster and Mattie with his cocky airs and smart mouth.
The movie captures the hardships these three face and doesn't glorify in any way how deadly life in the West could be. The film also has the Coen Brothers' trademark dark humor that comes naturally out of the story and is spun with the stilted language Portis used in his book.
Bridges manages to bury himself in the character of Cogburn. He is no amazing hero in the story but rather a cantankerous possible killer out to do the job for which he was hired. Bridges is a talented actor and this role will once again put him in the running for numerous acting awards.
Equally good is Steinfeld. She brings an assurance to Mattie while retaining the look and tone of the actions of a fourteen year old. Her life has caused her to grow up quickly and Steinfeld captures this forced maturity. It is hard to imagine anyone else playing this part, and doing it with the subtlety and wisdom Steinfeld shows.
The film is rated PG-13 for profanity and violence.
As good as the film is, it still suffers in comparison to the original. Those who have seen the 1969 John Wayne version remember it as an epic western full of grandeur and glory. Wayne was the peak of his career and this was his last major hit.
Those who haven't seen the original will be totally taken by this remake. Bridges and Steinfeld are strong in their roles with Damon being the weak link. But then LaBeouf isn't much of a part. The Coen Brothers stamp it all with their natural spin and make it dark, gritty and believable.
I scored "True Grit" a saddled up 7 out of 10.