Unlike the 1969 version of “True Grit” that featured John Wayne playing John Wayne, in the Coen Brothers new version Jeff Bridges IS Rooster Cogburn. This is a splendid tale of the Old West with dialog taken directly from the novel by Charles Portis. The movie is worth paying for just to hear the language! It is formal (no conjunctions), courtly and direct. Wonderful stuff.
The cast is outstanding. Aside from Bridges, the newcomer Hailee Steinfeld (age 13 when the film was shot) is simply superb and assured as Mattie Ross, out to avenge the murder of her father. Indeed, she’s the focal point of the story and displays the real True Grit. Her character is molded on rectitude and retribution, and young Hailee triumphs in the part. What more is there to be said about Hailee Steinfeld? The publicity she’s been getting is – for once – entirely appropriate. It’s difficult to imagine another first performance by a thirteen year old to match hers.
Jeff Bridges takes over the screen with his boozy, unwashed depiction of Rooster. The audience can almost catch his horrendous odor. He growls and snorts, drinks and drinks some more, and is not the deadeye (no pun for a guy who wears an eye patch) he once might have been.
Matt Damon is a comic relief Texas Ranger named LeBoeuf (pronounced LeBeef in the movie). He preens in his immaculate buckskin suede jacket, continually reminding one and all that he is that Texas Ranger. He brings everything to the role that Glen Campbell could not, or did not. Josh Brolin is fine as the murderous Tom Chaney.
The basic story is familiar to many of us. Mattie travels to Arkansas to claim the body of her father. Intent on revenge, she convinces Rooster and LeBoeuf to scour Indian Territory to find Chaney and bring him to justice – dead or alive. After some entertaining adventures they not only meet up with Chaney, but with some other bad characters in their quest. The good-and-evil aspects of this tale are pretty stark.
Since the story takes place in Arkansas the filming accurately was done in flat country, not the snow capped peaks of the original. Even the colors give the feel of what the country was like in the 1880’s.
By clinging closely to the novel the “True Grit” evinces a considerable amount of humor that was missing from the 1969 version. This is not a remake, for those believing they would simply be going to a rehash of familiar stuff. This is fresh, new and tremendously rewarding. See it!