True Grit Film Review

The Coen brothers’ last foray into the wild west, the universally acclaimed No Country For Old Men, got them more than a few awards, so it’s no surprise they’ve returned there for their first “true” western. But you’d be wrong to think that True Grit is just Oscar-bait wheeled out for awards season. It’s probably the Coens’ first ever straight film; no over-the-top genre bending or idiosyncratic screwball-isms here. That’s not to say it’s devoid of the brothers’ trademark charm either; Jeff Bridges rough, gruff cowboy is unknowingly armed to the teeth with wry one-liners.

Based on the Charles Portis novel of the same name, True Grit was translated to the big screen over forty years ago with John Wayne in the lead role. In the Coens’ vision, Bridges takes centre stage as U.S. Marshal Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogburn, a man who’s killed so many men he’s literally lost count, although the years of heavy-living and liquor probably hasn’t helped. His unconventional services are exactly what the young Mattie Ross (newcomer Hailee Steinfeld) is looking for as she hunts down her father’s killer, a man by the name of Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin). Joining them in their plight is Texas Ranger Laboeuf (Matt Damon), who’s also out for Chaney’s blood, hot or cold, for the murder of yet another faceless, nameless man.

Being in the company of veteran actor Bridges and Hollywood action hero Damon could be an intimidating experience for any rookie actress, but Steinfeld holds her own throughout. The fourteen-year old steals scenes left right and centre with her perfectly restrained performance, a remarkable debut that has rightly earned her BAFTA, Oscar and Golden Globe nominations, although regrettably in the Supporting categories; she is as much the film’s lead as Bridges. Aside from the fine turns by True Grit’s stars, the Coen brothers’ pepper the narrative with only the lightest but wonderfully persuasive ticks and motifs. Downplaying their usual goofy self-consciousness, the filmmaking siblings keep the laughs small and memorably uncomfortable – in one scene Cogburn kicks a couple of children in the dirt like they’re footballs, without a shrug from either him or them. This is the world the Coens’ have created for their characters, a violent, unflinching middle-America run by chaos and disgruntled cowboys.

The film moves along leisurely as we watch Mattie and Cogburn develop a slightly slanted father-daughter relationship that never feels forced or too sickly sweet, whilst the action is tensely directed with a focus on suspense and ham-fisted realism as opposed to sharp shooting cuts. Earnest and entertaining with its fair share of darker moments, Joel and Ethan Coen offer up one of their best with True Grit.

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