Director: Ethan and Joel Coen
Writer: Ethan and Joel Coen
Stars: Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld, Matt Damon, and Josh Brolin
Premise: After an outlaw named Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) murders her father, feisty 14-year-old farm girl Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) hires Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), a boozy, trigger-happy lawman, to help her find Chaney and avenge her father. The bickering duo are not alone in their quest, for a Texas Ranger named LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) is also tracking Chaney for reasons of his own. Together the unlikely trio ventures into hostile territory to dispense some Old West justice.
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
This version of True Grit — a remake of the John Wayne version (1969) — stars Jeff Bridges in the role of Rueben (Rooster) Cogburn, the Marshal hired by the true hero of this story, Mattie Ross. Wonderfully played by the very able, Hailee Steinfeld. Who, for my part, outshines her male counterparts. They certainly play second fiddle to her, as she steals every scene she’s in.
Whether she’s out smarting them with legalese, as in the scenes where she is horse trading with Col. Stonehill (Dakin Matthews)—who owns the stables where her father bought ponies—to bargaining later in the film with both Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) and the leader of the outlaw gang, “Lucky” Ned Pepper (Barry Pepper). None survive her verbal wrangling, as she bamboozles them into doing what she wants … for the most part.
The dialogue is authentic, true to the times, and downright droll in places. So much so that I laughed out loud at the deadpan humour. Again, in the two scenes where Mattie is bargaining with Col. Stonehill to not only buy back his ponies, but make reparations to her for the loss of her father’s saddle and horse, we see her verbal shenanigans leave the man in a shambles. Priceless!
You immediate take to and root for Mattie, and, as the film progresses, begin to see the Marshall, and wonton drunk, Cogburn, in a different light, as he slowly thaws and takes to Mattie and her brand of innocence. But it is the grit she shows us, that makes us believers.
The scenery itself, and the weather conditions play a subtle role throughout, as the broad open vistas and seemingly desolate landscapes breath reality into the groups trek to find Tom Chaney, and the Ned Pepper gang. It’s stark, bleak, and unforgiving out in the wilderness, reminding us that this is no glorified Hollywood version but still, Mother Nature’s glory is beautiful in the raw.
The performances are credible, believable, even enjoyable given Mattie’s ability to talk everyone into and out of most situations. Jeff Bridges gives an excellent performance as Cogburn—a crotchety and dogeared old man, who, in the end, shows himself a hero by saving Mattie’s life.
Matt Damon gives a credible performance as the third wheel of the group, playing the Texas Ranger, LaBoeuf, who’s been on Tom Chaney’s trail for months, after the outlaw shot and killed a Texan Senator. Almost as gruff as Cogburn, the pair share a few verbal spars that are entertaining and laced with some dark humour.
As are the scenes in which Cogburn is interrogating the outlaw pair, Moon and Quincy. It’s this dark humour throughout that off-sets some of the more brutal violence. And keeps it tempered to within limits that shock but never glorify.
As true to the book as I’ve seen any movie be, True Grit hits all the right notes, tells the heartwarming and yes, heartbreaking story of Mattie, and what she went through to find her father’s killer. A true story that does not shy away from the realities of the times it was set in.
Rating: 8.5 / 10