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True Grit 
Stars: Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper and Dakin Mathews
Directors/Scriptwriters; Joel Coen and Ethan Coen from the novel by Charles Portis
Composer: Carter Burwell
Cinematography: Roger Deakins
Rating: PG 13 for violence
Running Length: 110 Minutes

I hear you want a movie with true grit? One with strong characters, a unique directing style, and a story you can sink your teeth into. Leave it to the Coen Brothers to deliver the goods. Their retelling of the John Wayne classic Western, True Grit, may not sit perfectly in the saddle with fans of the original but it is sure to grab a whole different audience that will find it highly entertaining. 

Fourteen year old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) is seeking the man who shot her father in cold blood. She elicits the help of the legendary, though unstable, Marshal Reuben J. Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to help her hunt Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) down and bring him to justice. Also in pursuit of the same man is Texas Ranger La Boeuf (Matt Damon) who has been tracking Chaney for some time. Cogburn and La Boeuf have to get over their differences, deal with this young pistol of a girl; all before the trail grows cold. 

I love what the Coen’s did with this film. They take a classic western styling and add in fast paced, smart dialogue which at times is Shakespearian in its rhythm and delivery. They create characters that are multi dimensional and too grandiose to exist in real life. It is this sort of creation that makes their films and characters instantly quotable, recognizable and memorable. True Grit is radiating with that Coen signature which will appeal to many; even the few that walk away disjointed.

It would be amiss not to mention the performance of new comer (literally her first feature film) Steinfield. Hailee takes the script and wields it like a veteran of the arts. She doesn’t shy away from the dialogue or from getting in the face of her two co stars. She is dynamic and shows as much grit, if not more so, than Bridges. The only fault I have with her is that she is a beautiful girl and while they tried to make her homely with that prairie ruggedness she still has too much softness. Especially when compared to Kim Darby who played the role in the original. The line in the movie, “looks like you were beat with an ugly stick” seems out of place when describing Hailee. 

Bridges does well with the look and feel of Cogburn yet the decision to have him deliver each and every line as if he has a mouth full of gravel makes for a tiresome experience. You have to force yourself to diligently focus on each word and still many fall away undecipherable. Damon is a good fit as the Texas Ranger and his dry wit and timing adds some welcome flavor.

True Grit is Rated PG-13 for some intense sequences of western violence including disturbing images. Obviously there are some hangings and gun fire; typical old west shenanigans. Other than that this has little to offend or shock the typical movie goer. The language is very mild and even if it wasn’t I doubt you could understand it from Bridges. Even with that distracting element I still give it 4.5 out of 5 camp fires. The Coen Brothers are back in true form and even the most die hard westerner will appreciate the liberties they take to tell their tale. 

-Matt Mungle

Review copyright 2010 Mungleshow Productions. Used by Permission.

For fans of the John Wayne film True Grit, rest assured, the famous horse trading scene between Kim Darby and Strother Martin is intact here, only played by Dakin Mathews (General Hospital) and newcomer Hailee Steinfeld. As for the Rooster Cogburn character, he is well done by a hard drinking Jeff Bridges, who puts the reins in his teeth and takes that scene alone. In the Coen Brothers version of Charles Portis’ novel, “True Grit,” it is the Old West, not sanitized, and even bandits have a sense of chivalry. In other words, good readers, the western is back.

The story is told in a flashback, alternating between an older Mattie Rhodes and the 14-year-old who travels far to avenge the murder of her father. Mattie is the oldest child in her family, mature beyond her years, and must have been her father’s favorite, for the responsibility of the act of revenge is on her shoulders. Hailee Steinfeld does the character so well, and her eyes don’t waver. When she tries to find the meanest lawman/gunfighter to get the dastardly murderer Tom Cheney (Josh Brolin all but twirling a moustache), Mattie hires and persuades the drunken Rooster (Bridges) to do the job. However, along comes a Texas Ranger, Le Beouf (Matt Damon) who also wants Chaney. Le Beouf is a Ranger to the core and doesn’t like traveling with women, period. You can guess what happens next, they leave without her, she follows and they end up a threesome. Characters met along the way include a myriad of dead people and bandits, including Barry Pepper who looks and sounds so much like a younger Robert Duvall, you catch yourself thinking, “huh?  “ Eventually, Tom Chaney comes along and as Brolin plays him, he is a brute and coward. Against a beautifully photographed background, the story plays out with surprises and narration along the way.

True Grit is what people like to think of when mentioning “The Old West.” Honesty, true to family, carrying responsibility, your word is as good as gold, and eye for an eye and women are to be treated carefully, but it is difficult with the straight-forward Mattie. Hailee Steinfeld’s direct gaze and body language may be bold at first, but you can tell by the slight tilt of her body that there is still a little girl there. Jeff Bridges’ Rooster is a man of honor, but drink comes with the territory. He likes to talk and has a sense of respect for those who stand up to his bluster. The character of Le Beouf, as played by Matt Damon, has no emotion. It is a Texas Ranger robot and not a human. Josh Brolin’s Tom Cheney is whiney as a killer and the rest of the cast has their places in the sun, including Mattie’s black horse. For western lovers, you have your western back. For me, the Coen Brothers do an unexpectedly good job of transferring the True Grit book to the screen. It is slightly different that John Wayne’s movie, but still gives us the essence of a time past when lawmen took the law into their own hands and even bandits had a code of honor, with plenty of violence for both sides of the law.

Copyright 2010 Marie Asner




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