Theatrical Review: True Grit

14-year old Mattie Ross is a determined young girl. Being the most educated member of her family, she’s come to put her father’s affairs in order following his tragic cold-blooded murder at the hands of outlaw Tom Chaney. The most important thing on her mind though is finding and bringing Chaney to justice and she finds little help with the sheriff. She is determined though and using money from her father’s estate, she hires a roguish U.S. Marshal to aid her. That Marshal, being one Rueben “Rooster” Cogburn, has been described as one of the toughest in the business, though his drunken demeanor doesn’t exactly inspire the greatest of faith in Mattie. Mattie has one stipulation though, she wants to accompany Cogburn on his quest and make sure the job gets done, much to Cogburn’s chagrin. They’re unexpectedly joined by a Texas Ranger, LaBeouf, who’s also in pursuit of Chaney for crimes committed in Texas. So the three set off to find the outlaw, and get more than they bargain for in the process.

True Grit is a remake of the movie by the same name and it’s also the newest movie from the Coen Brothers. Honestly, I’ve never seen the Henry Hathaway original starring John Wayne, though I certainly know about it, it’s just one of those things that have slipped between the cracks. But knowing this was coming and further knowing it was Coen Brothers re-uniting with Jeff Bridges, certainly had me eager to see it. And it didn’t disappoint at all, though I don’t think it’s quite as strong as other Coen Brothers films, it’s still plenty entertaining.

One of the biggest standouts for me in the film is it’s unique dialogue style, it’s combination of being authentic to it’s time, yet still feeling heavily, theatrically written. It doesn’t quite sound natural to the ear, but it’s right for this story and for it’s characters. While it’s certainly very well made, and looks terrific, the real star here is the dialogue and the performances.

Jeff Bridges plays Rooster Cogburn and while there’s a somewhat cartoonish aspect to what he’s doing here, it works quite well and his character is full of authority. Matt Damon has a bit of a tougher part as LaBoeuf, he’s serving as support, and so is put into a position of taking more of a back seat to Bridges, and also has to come off as being a bit less than what Cogburn is. Damon certainly does that well, but still feels like a guy who is in control of what he’s doing, just without the same level of experience that Cogburn has. Josh Brolin plays Tom Chaney. Chaney’s a driving force for the characters in the film, but when we’re finally introduced to him, he doesn’t necessarily come off as the character that he’s built up to be. Brolin plays the character as simple, and for the brief time that he’s in the movie, he does a great job.

But the cast standouts to me are Barry Pepper and Hailee Steinfeld. Barry Pepper plays Lucky Ned Pepper, the leader of an outlaw gang and the boss to Tom Chaney. Pepper’s introduced late in the movie, but certainly makes his mark. As I said, I hadn’t seen the original movie, so I’d not even knew about Robert Duvall being in it, and yet the one person that Barry Pepper made me think of right away was Robert Duvall. It’s brief work, but considerable smarts behind it. Hailee Steinfeld plays Mattie Ross, and this young lady commands the screen whenever she’s in a scene with her as the force of the scene and further she certainly holds her own with Bridges and Damon. She’s terrific and I’d expect this girl to a big star soon.

True Grit is great work. Very much a dialogue and character driven film that makes it’s few action sequences really stand out when they happen. While this doesn’t quite stand out for me as other recent Coen Brothers movies like No Country For Old Men or Burn After Reading, it’s still an entertaining time in it’s own right. It’s great to see a western like this again. Very much recommended.

About Darren Goodhart

Darren Goodhart is a 44-year old St. Louis-based Graphic Designer and Illustrator (and former comic book artist) who's been seeing movies all his life, but on an almost weekly basis in theatres for the last 20 years and owns nearly 1,000 DVDs for his home theatre. He's learned a lot about film over the 20 year period, and has taken his appreciation beyond the mainstream. His favorite types of film are mostly genre entertainment, but he also enjoys a wide range of drama, action and cult-y stuff from around the world, and is currently re-discovering a love affair with lower budget exploitation and genre films from the 70s and early 80s. He doesn't try to just dismiss any film, but if there's a bias against one, he'll certainly tell you that in the space of his reviews.

26. December 2010 by Darren Goodhart
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