Audiences should be so lucky if all remakes were this good (and this isn’t even a remake.)
Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) is an educated lass of fourteen sent to settle her slain father’s accounts in a small Western frontier town. After verbally making short work of a local businessman to collect a tidy sum of cash, she sets out to hire the toughest bounty hunter she can: Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), a man described as having “true grit.” While Cogburn is reluctantly persuaded into taking the contract, he did not count on the determination of Ms. Ross to see her father’s murderer taken to justice by displaying a little grit of her own.
Writer/directors Ethan and Joel Coen are back again, this time with a good film (which means we can only imagine the horror of what they’ll do next). They’ve taken one of their muses, Jeff Bridges, slapped an eye patch on him and written him up with enough Old West attitude to stare down a stampede by himself. Hailee Steinfeld holds her own against him as an under-aged spitfire with vengeance in her heart, leaving only Matt Damon to play straight man LaBoeuf as a big-hearted Texas Ranger who always seems just a little out of his element. With winter setting into a harsh and lawless land, everyone will be tested, but only those with true grit will survive.
Reportedly a remake from the source book and not the 1969 film, True Grit has all the trappings of a great western but carries with it the weight of being originally made famous by John Wayne (as well as co-starring Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper, and Glen Campbell). It also netted Mr. Wayne a long overdue Oscar, but the controversy has always been over if the committee simply handed one over to the man and not truly for the part played (and if you don’t believe the Academy plays favorites year to year, why doesn’t Tom Hanks have seven Oscars yet?) Purely for comparison, the 2010 version does have an edgier feel, but filmmakers can get away with grittier material and subject matter today than did forty years ago.
Josh Brolin (without whom you can’t make a Western these days apparently) does an incredible turn as simpleton Tom Chaney, an murdering outlaw who knows his limitations but who ultimately just makes very poor decisions. Barry Pepper appears briefly as “Lucky” Ned Pepper… very briefly. The editing for this film is also remarkably tight, spending very little time reflecting or traveling so much as moving between scenes of importance. It’s actually kind of nice that Westerns like this only come around rarely. Fortunately, men like Cogburn are fewer and farther between; it’d be bad enough if he was coming after you for something, but heaven help you if you pissed him off.
(a three and a half skull recommendation out of four)