It’s hard to recreate a movie that’s widely considered to be one of the greatest Westerns of all time; one that garnered mass critical praise and an Oscar for John Wayne. In fact, it’s damn near impossible.
This makes the Coen Brother’s fantastic remake of the 1969 Henry Hathaway film “True Grit” (which was in turn based on the 1968 novel by Charles Portis) about a young girl on the hunt for her father’s killer, all the more impressive.
Though Joel and Ethan Coen do a masterful job of adapting the decades old source material into a tasteful and entertaining experience, little of their trademark peculiarity is present in the film, which they treat less like a typical Coen Brothers film and more like a Western.
That said, there are still quirky moments along the way that call to mind past Coen bros. filmography, and the fascinating characterization seen in their films is still abundant here.
The most notable character in the film is without a doubt Mattie Ross, portrayed by Hailee Steinfeld in a performance whose loss at the Academy Awards no doubt had many viewers up in arms.
In the original “True Grit,” Mattie Ross was played by Kim Darby (who can also be seen in the similarly classic “Teen Wolf Too”) as an obnoxious, petulant child.
This is not the case with Hailee Steinfeld, who plays a confident and capable young girl with the courage to match her companions’ experience. While Mattie Ross was an obnoxious blight on the original movie, here she serves as a likable protagonist that is easy for audiences to support.
Mattie’s companions are equally likeable. Though this is no doubt a movie about Mattie Ross, every piece of promotional material for the film would have you believe it was a Western-themed Jeff Bridges Variety Hour. This is not the case.
However, it could’ve been, as Jeff Bridges is amazing as the bumbling, drunken and barely efficient U.S. Marshal Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogburn. It’s hard to follow the performance of an icon like John Wayne, especially since this was Wayne’s only Oscar-winning performance, but Bridges succeeds with flying colors.
As Rooster, Bridges plays an interesting role in that he not only provides most of the films comic relief, but most of its action as well.
Though he doesn’t stammer his way through nation addresses in war-torn England like in “The King’s Speech,” Jeff Bridges has no doubt earned his second consecutive Best Actor nomination.
Mattie’s second hired gun, Texas Ranger LaBoeuf, is played by Matt Damon, who does an excellent job striking up a persona that is somewhere between entirely arrogant and mysteriously overcompensating.
The chemistry between Damon and Bridges provides many of the film’s most enjoyable moments as the two repeatedly try to “out-badass” each other.
Rounding out the cast is Josh Brolin of “No Country for Old Men” fame, playing the film’s villain, Tom Cheney, who killed Ross’ father. Brolin does an exceptional job and holds his own.
The writing of “True Grit” is phenomenal and the films takes viewers through various wild-West settings, some less expected than others, on a journey that is enjoyable from start to finish. I was more than happy to have paid full price to see “True Grit”; for only a dollar at Cheap Seats, it’s a steal.