The Coen brothers are back, and one wonders if there's a genre that the duo would fail to tackle and deliver. Their filmography's pretty amazing and their style full of wit, but a straight laced, good 'ol Western? And a remake at that which starred one of Western cinema's most iconic hero John Wayne? That's true grit, alright.
But lo and behold, Ethan and Joel Coen did it again, with their sheer quality shining through the adaptation of Charles Portis novel without batting an eyelid, and never far away from the idiosyncrasies that make a film an identifiable Coen product. Granted I have a love-hate relationship with their films, but this film truly ranks amongst one of the greatest in its genre, with characters, cinematography, action, dialogue, heck the whole shebang that puts it right up there, with sheer entertainment balancing artistry.
The crux of the story is that of revenge, where young 14 year old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) seeks out the renegade criminal Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) who had mercilessly killed her father, and fled to the Indian territories. She can't do it alone, and thus enlists the help of the one eyed US Marshal Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to assist her to bringing him to justice, if not for Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) to get in her way in their joint efforts to bring in the criminal. Expect powerful drama balanced with true blue Western shoot 'em up action, with excellent dialogue though a bit of a stretch since most of the macho cowboys mumble their way through.
I am perplexed why Hailee Steinfeld only garnered a supporting actress nomination in the upcoming Oscars. From the onset her character carries the film from the beginning right through to the end, and I suppose if not for her rookie debut and her age, she'd rank up there and was quite the revelation in this film, carrying the film on her shoulders as the girl seeking out eye for an eye revenge. She portrays her character with plenty of heart, and showed how skilled a negotiator Mattie Ross can be, getting her way and not being pushed around town through her doggedness and cunningness, weaving her way around and literally having the two big burly men clearly wrapped around her finger. She's probably True Grit personified in all intents through the many scenes we see her in, even staring death squarely in the eye.
Then of course there's Jeff Bridges, chewing up the role made famous by John Wayne, though with the eye patch strung across a different eye to probably make a statement that the Rooster Cogburn here is his own man. A man with questionable morals as seen in his opening scene in the courtrooms (well, that Coen touch of hearing him through the water closet doesn't really count!), he stands by the law as exacted by him, and forms a reluctant partnership with LaBoeuf, becoming a contrast of sorts. Cogburn becomes a mercenary as he plies his services under Mattie Ross's payroll, whereas LaBoeuf has been in pursuit of their mark for a long time under the auspices of the law. And of course Cogburn prefers the bottle for solace, while LaBoeuf through Damon's portrayal brings about a by the book persona. Their competitiveness and rivalry makes their road trip very much palatable, if you're already not enamored by the wonderful scenery and cinematography.
The immense wit and comedy was also something not quite unexpected in a Coen film, but to see them fused so effortlessly in a Western without it becoming a parody or slapstick comedy, is what made this film stand out and shine. The cast get expanded to include Josh Brolin and Barry Pepper toward the last half hour when things get upped a notch when good guys meet the bad ones finally, but by then everything is just going uphill, and you'll be in for quite the ride. Don't let the thick accents prevent you from checking out what's probably one of the most straightforward, and accessible Coen Brothers film, and one of that the Western genre will be proud to include in its fold. Definitely highly recommended!