“True Grit” Movie Review

     To put it in the simplest terms possible, Joel and Ethan Coen, the writer / director tandem behind “True Grit”, are responsible for some of the most classic films of our time.  Whether it be the black comedy of “Blazing Saddles” or “The Big Lebowski”, or the criminal thrillers “Fargo” and “No Country For Old Men”, the Coens have been consistently providing us with some of the funniest, most witty, and extremely violent films of the last 25 years.  This streak of greatness is by no means in danger of ending with the excellent “True Grit.”  The Coens are retelling the popular western tale known best for it being John Wayne’s Oscar winning role back in 1969.  Of course, as I anticipated, this is not merely a remake, rather a re-imagining told by master storytellers in a way only the Coen brothers could.

     The story follows a 14 year old girl’s quest to find her father’s killer and bring him to justice.  While working out his funeral arrangements, Mattie Ross decides to hire U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn to go after the murderer Tom Chaney.  Of course, one catch is Mattie wants to go along, as does Texas Ranger LaBoeuf who has been tracking Chaney for months for crimes committed in Texas.  This makes the film feel like a road movie, but staged in the wild west.  As they track Chaney, they run into all sorts of obstacles that threaten to derail their mission.  Ultimately, they face off and the ending of this film is pure Coen brothers.  Realism is never compromised for the sake of heroism and the fate each character meets comes with consequences, just as is the case in all of the Coen’s works.

     Jeff Bridges steps into the role of tough, but quite vagrant like, U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn.  As we have all seen over the past year, Jeff Bridges has had quite a resurgence.  As Cogburn, he buries himself in the role to the point that after he appears on screen, you seem to forget it is Jeff Bridges.  To say that means Bridges is showing quite a bit of range that I hadn’t seen from him before.  In past roles, Jeff Bridges was, well, Jeff Bridges.  Always the Dude.  Kind of like Jack Nicholson will always be Jack, regardless of role.  In 2009, Jeff Bridges began to shed that image in “Crazy Heart” and now it seems to me we don’t have Jeff Bridges in this film.  We have Rooster Cogburn.  Definitely an awards worthy performance by Bridges.

    All of the cast performs solidly.  Both Matt Damon as the Texas Ranger LaBoeuf and Josh Brolin as the vile villain Tom Chaney excel in their roles and are given great moments to shine thanks to the nifty writing by the Coens.  Perhaps the star that shine’s brightest though is that of Hailee Steinfeld as she plays Mattie Ross.  This is one smart cookie!  Steinfeld plays the character straight forward and comes across as a tough 14 year old who will do anything to bring her father’s murderer to justice.  She steals practically every scene she is in and is just a pleasure to watch.  She has scenes in which she drives a hard bargain with people 5 times her age and she never seems to shed that toughness, even in times of peril.  Her performance clearly anchors the film and should garner her Supporting Actress nominations throughout the awards season.

     I, myself, am not a fan of the Western genre typically.  With a few notable exceptions, I usually shy away. With the Coens behind the camera; however, I certainly had no problem looking forward to seeing “True Grit”, if for no other reason just to see what they have come up with (multiple Best Picture Oscars and numerous classic films on your resume will get you that reputation with me.).  What the Coens have constructed here is another great film when measured against its many 2010 counterparts.  Is it a classic? Probably not.  Just the fact that its a remake means it likely can’t achieve that kind of status.  What we have here is a great film that is one of the best of 2010 and is a surprising jump to the mainstream for the Coens.  A film that seems geared to be more of a blockbuster than an art film and I’ve never seen that from them before.  Perhaps what they have created here is a hybrid of sorts.  The first art film and blockbuster mix.  Is that possible in Hollywood today?  I think we may now have the answer.  GRADE: A-