“True Grit” as interpreted by Joel and Ethan Coen is everything you could want in a Western. Gunslingers, lawmen, horrible hygiene, dusty trails, and gunfire abound in this film.
Of course one would expect all this given the 1969 John Wayne headlined film of the same name and basic plot line.
However to call this a remake would be vastly short-selling the independent strength of this film.
This is a Western with a touch of nostalgia, not just for the Western genre or the days of open trails and gun barrel justice, but for the kind of honor and fairness that our heroine expects in the world.
Freakishly intelligent and stubborn 14-year-old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) sets out to avenge her murdered father armed with nothing but her superior intellect, sharp tongue and whatever money she can negotiate out of the local horse trader.
Of course in order to bring her father’s killer Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) to justice she needs a little bit more than nerve.
Enter U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges). Cogburn is the kind of character that grows on you. His violent past, surly manner, and general grunginess are off-putting (to say the least) when we first encounter him.
Much like Mattie, you learn to trust him. Let me rephrase that: you trust him because Mattie trusts him.
LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) rounds out this bandit hunting trio. This Texas Ranger’s initial charm is about as strong as Cogburn’s repulsiveness. Unfortunately for him, his first impression lasts about as long as well. This contradiction of character translates into plenty of conflict between these begrudgingly allied men.
In the midst of all this testosterone driven, Hollywood big name cast, a less than likely star shines through.
Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross is awesome in the true sense of the word. She owns that screen and is brilliant from beginning to end. Knowing that she was 13 when this was filmed enhances an already astoundingly beautiful performance.
She’s tough, smart, passionate, honorable, dignified, stubborn, and you definitely would not want to get in a match of wits with this girl.
The dialogue only helps her along.
The way all of the characters speak is mesmerizing. The well-spoken manner of all, even the less than proper Cogburn, amidst all of the grunge and grunting is refreshing and beautiful.
While the film is not completely contraction-less (grammatically speaking) it comes awfully close and you may find yourself trying to remove some apostrophes from your life.
At its heart “True Grit” has a reminiscent quality which extends well beyond the narration provided by middle-aged Mattie Ross. Each character has their own past to respectively regret, question, deny, or avoid all together.
Meanwhile we watch and hope that there truly was such a time when people spoke as beautifully and acted as honorably as these lawmen and prairie girls.