Mush-mouthed and cantankerous, Rooster Cogburn has little time for fools, but recognizes a tough character when he sees one. When 14-year-old headstrong Mattie Ross (newcomer Hailee Steinfeld) approaches him to go on a manhunt to avenge her father’s death by a man named Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), he can see that she means business. The curious duo is joined on their quest by a Texas Ranger named LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), who has his own designs on Chaney, but in the meantime has to deal with getting no respect from Cogburn.
True Grit is basically a road movie under the guise of a classic Western. Strange characters are encountered on the trio’s quest, bad guys are stumbled upon (but not necessarily the man they are looking for), and hesitant relationships are formed, creating unlikely friendships. There’s campfire humor, drunken humor, and good old-fashioned humiliation. Lest you be surprised, True Grit is at times very, very funny (I remember the comedy aspect surprisingly me when I watched the original film not too long ago). From the trailers, this new version is being portrayed as a dark, gritty, violent Western. But don’t be afraid: True Grit is highly entertaining (yes, with some violent and dark moments), and the crowd that I watched the film with appreciated the humor from start to finish.
The cinematography of the film is great, as well as the attention to period detail—from costumes, to sets, to bad teeth. But what really stuck with me was the wonderful dialogue. My first impression was that the deliberate, strange, old-fashioned-speak of the characters had the Coen Brothers’ quirk written all over it. Turns out (the Coens say) that the dialogue was lifted straight from Charles Portis’ original book, which was used as the source, rather than the 1969 film. Regardless, as the characters speak with a firmness, due to their lack of contractions (for instance “is not” vs. “isn’t,” or “do not” vs. “don’t”), so the film is lent a sort of Old West poetry-feel that makes it sound strangely fresh. There is no hipster, modern dialogue inserted here. These people meant business when they spoke, even if they were buffoons. Their words are wonderful.
To be a little critical, as much as I enjoyed True Grit, I noticed that the scene that is the rousing high point of the original (where John Wayne takes his horse’s reigns in his teeth and rides galloping across a field, shooting two pistols), doesn’t quite have the emotional impact in this version. The Coens’ True Grit actually suffers a bit in the final act, losing a bit of the momentum that it had, trotting along until that point. Even if this story is (apparently) more accurate to the original novel, I couldn’t help but feel the the climax suffers a bit this time around.
But, that said, until that point I was totally digging True Grit. Young Hailee Steinfeld is a true find, and she more than holds her own with the seasoned actors around her. Matt Damon (who was unrecognizable to me in the trailer) is slowly and surely getting more and more respect from me as an actor, as he provides genuine comic relief and emotion as the much put-upon LaBoeuf. Then, of course, there is Jeff Bridges. Bridges is surfing a wave of great roles at this point in his career, and he is obviously having a blast in this movie. His Rooster Cogburn is no imitation of John Wayne—he is yet another original, great character that Bridges can add to his award-winning resume.