Directors: The Coen Brothers
When 14-year-old Mattie Ross’ father is murdered, she engages the services of drunken U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn to help hunt down her father’s killer, Tom Chaney. Together with Texas Ranger La Boeuf, they set off into Indian territory on Chaney’s trail.
The Coens continue their eclectic career path with this adaptation of Charles Portis’ 1968 novel, which was already adapted in 1969 with John Wayne in the lead role. This time around it is Jeff Bridges playing the grizzled Cogburn, reuniting with the Coen brothers for the first time since they hit the mark together in 1998 with The Big Lebowski, possibly the finest hour of both parties.
After The Fisher King and Crazy Heart, it seems Bridges has now cornered the market in washed-up, embittered drunks needing redemption. Perhaps this is because it is a role he just plays so well. And while there is nothing particularly original about Rooster Cogburn as a character, Bridges embues him with such a crusty, wizened charm that he is joy to spend two hours with. Peering at the world through his one good eye, Rooster Cogburn is the very essence of a man who has seen it all and usually ended up shooting it. In contrast, Matt Damon’s dedicated, slightly pompous Texas Ranger provides the perfect foil, and the bickering between the two of them provides most of the movie’s best comic moments.
However, the real star, and the real surprise, of True Grit is Hailee Steinfeld. More than ably holding her own against the heavyweights, Steinfeld delivers an assured and mature performance as the determined Mattie, wise beyond her years but still not fully prepared for the journey she instigates. Managing to walk the very fine line between endearing and precocious, Steinfeld emerges as a talent to watch out for.
If there is a weakness to True Grit, and it is a minor one, then it is a failing which is fairly common to the Coens; an anti-climatic ending. Like No Country for Old Men, though to a much lesser degree, True Grit may leave you feeling slightly let down by its rather hurried and weak closing.
The Western is a genre that the Coens touched on, if only in spirit, with No Country for Old Men. Here they move on to the genuine article and, while this is not an enduring classic in the vein of Unforgiven or The Searchers, it is still an extremely worthy addition to a genre that mines gold nuggets far too rarely. Of course, whatever genre they turn their hand to, there is always something recognisable about a Coen movie, and True Grit is no exception. All the usual idiosyncrasies are present, including the repeated line gag and a collection of eccentric walk-on characters. I can’t wait for the Coens Sci-fi movie, if they ever decide to give that a go.