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With: Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper, Dakin Matthews, Jarlath Conroy, Paul Rae, Domhnall Gleeson, Elizabeth Marvel, Roy Lee Jones, Ed Corbin, Leon Russom, Bruce Green, Candyce Hinkle
Written by: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Directed by: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some intense sequences of western violence including disturbing images
Running Time: 110
Date: 13/12/2010
IMDB

True Grit (2010)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Rooster Shot

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

I haven't seen more than a couple clips of the original True Grit (1969), but from what I can tell, the new remake sticks pretty close to the same dialogue and situations, and even some of the staging. However, it's very easy to tell that this new one is by far the better film. The original was directed by Henry Hathaway, an interesting filmmaker without much personality. The new one is directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, whose compositions have a very unique rhythm and feel. Despite the source novel and the original film, this one feels precisely like a pure Coen brothers film; they have taken everything that came before and made it their own.

The deciding factor is that Jeff Bridges has taken over an iconic role that had been played by arguably the biggest movie star of the 20th century, John Wayne, and no one has made a peep about it. Bridges slides right into the saddle as easily as Wayne did, and there's no real comparison. No one feels usurped or inferior. Indeed, while Wayne won a Best Actor Oscar for his performance, Bridges feels as if he's worthy of the same (although he won last year for Crazy Heart, so it's unlikely he'd win again this year).

The story, from Charles Portis' novel, is a simple one. A lowlife bandit called Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) murders a man in cold blood. The man's 14 year-old daughter, a whip-smart cherub with a pristine vocabulary named Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), wants vengeance. So she hires U.S. marshal Rooster Cogburn (Bridges) to catch him and bring him back for a proper hanging. Their personality types amusingly clash. It's the classic "uptight" vs. "laid back" Hollywood formula, but taken to a visual extreme here. Cogburn is a one-eyed wreck, with an eyepatch and a little extra around the middle. He's a drunk and a dead shot; he's killed more men than he can either admit or remember.

In one scene, he rides his horse, drunk, and teetering backwards in the saddle at a 45-degree angle. Wayne pulled off the same indelible image in the original film, and Bridges makes it his own here. Meanwhile, Mattie is perfectly upright and balanced, with her two braided pigtails hanging down on either side of her head, and her wide-brimmed hat perfectly parallel on her forehead.

Unfortunately, it turns out that Chaney is wanted for more than just one murder, and a Texas Ranger named LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) is also looking for him. Sometimes the three heroes team up and sometimes not; LeBoeuf is a more upstanding soul than Cogburn, and he's probably closer to Mattie in spirit, but at the same time, Cogburn can see right through him, and Mattie knows this. It's an interesting dynamic.

The Coens provide a snowy, wintry landscape for their film, which has the effect of making everything quieter and more striking. This is no whiz-bang summer adventure. This is more like an odyssey. There are some that considered the Coens' No Country for Old Men a kind of modern Western, and it has a little in common with True Grit, but the main difference is that No Country for Old Men transcended its genre with modern themes, while True Grit is really just an exemplary genre film; it's a pure bread-and-butter Western, and it's the kind I'd like to see again.