Normally, I’m against remakes. As a rule, I cannot stand them. But, unfortunately, Hollywood views the re-inventions of prior source material as an easy way to make a buck. I call this lazy film-making. But when I discovered The Coen Brothers were trying their hand at the John Wayne classic I was intrigued.
Although great, I always felt the original “True Grit” could have been, well, grittier — improved upon. The Coen Brothers manage to do both here. Not to say I didn’t enjoy the original, but for me it was dated and from my understanding deviated quite a bit from the novel written by Charles Portis.
The story in “True Grit” is pretty straight-forward. Mattie Ross (Hailee Steenfeld) is a 14-year-old girl seeking revenge for her father’s murder. To assist her on her quest, Mattie hires a marshal with “true grit” named “Rooster” Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to track down her father’s killer through Choctaw territory. Not convinced he will carry out the deed, Mattie accompanies Cogburn — against his wishes. Along the way, the pair is soon joined by a Texas Ranger, La Boeuf (Matt Damon), who is after Chaney for a murder committed in Texas.
From the supporting actors to the leads, every contribution in this film is top notch. Then again, the Coen Brothers always had the uncanny knack of discovering the best and most interesting talent. In fact, most of the actors appeared to have been hand-picked because their specific look mirrored “True Grit’s” rough environment, making the film all the more visceral and real.
But the standout performances are without a doubt from Bridges, Steinfeld, Damon and Josh Brolin. Newcomer Hailee Steinfeld is a force to be reckoned with. What impressed me the most about this young thespian is how she played the part fearlessly. Not many actresses could hold a candle to the Oscar-winning Bridges, let alone someone so young.
Brolin is probably in the picture for all of 15 minutes. But within that brief time period, he plays one hell of a rat. As La Beouf, Damon was the perfect do-gooder, Disgusted by Cogburn’s drunken unconventional way of doing things; the Texas Ranger fought him tooth and nail. Without any difficulty, Damon conveyed the lawman’s frustration in a manner that showed how dedicated he was about bringing Chaney to justice.
Saving the best for last is the master: Jeff Bridges. He was amazing here, nothing short of perfection. If anyone was concerned whether he could fill the Duke’s shoes, they need not be. His Cogburn is of his own design, not to be confused with John Wayne’s version. Both are great, yet different, and fit the time period in which each movie was made. It always amazes me at how well Bridges slips into character, leaving barely a trace of himself. He truly is a brilliant. And one thing is for certain; the Best Actor race will be very tight this year.
To sum things up, “True Grit” is a first-rate picture. I’m sure this has been said with every Coen Brother release, but it bears repeating. The Coen Brothers have done it again.
“True Grit” opens Dec. 22.
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