Title: True Grit
Year of Release: 2010
Date Viewed: January 23rd, 2011
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Whenever we reach a point where the Western genre appears to be dead, a gem falls from the sky that promises a new golden age. Leave it to the dependable Coen brothers to present a revenge thriller with top professionalism. It's not stylish nor plain. It simply does what it needs to do and does it with class.
The well-known 1969 adaptation of Charles Portis' novel is given fond acknowledgement, but this offering is more concerned with modeling itself after Portis' original vision. Fans of the John Wayne classic need not worry though. There is still plenty of cigarette smoke and whiskey to go around.
The film begins with an auditory introduction to set up the story of fourteen year old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld). Mattie's beloved father was murdered by goon-for-hire Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) over an unestablished dispute. She leaves behind her humble farm roots to find a dependable U.S. Marshal to aid her quest of revenge. She sets her sights on Reuben "Rooster" Cogburn, infamous for his erratic behavior and bad habits. It is his track record that interests Mattie the most. Cogburn has the "true grit" that she is looking for.
Before any arrangements could be finalized, Mattie encounters someone else that wants to find Chaney. Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) is out for justice in response to a murder committed by Chaney in LaBoeuf's hometown. Unlike Mattie, LaBoeuf wants to capture Chaney alive so he can face trial and execution. Through a series of deceptive events and coincidences, Mattie manages to use both LaBeouf and Cogburn to her advantage, but the differing egos will put the final outcome in question.
The first noticeable thing about True Grit is its desire to get straight to business. There is not a lot of fancy stuff such as establishing shots until the second act. The music score is kept minimal but is pleasant to hear when it does appear. The dialogue sometimes seems wooden because the actors seem unwilling or perhaps were instructed not to make the show about themselves. It's more important to understand what they say instead of how it's said. The exception is Bridges' performance as Cogburn. Most of his lines would benefit from subtitles, but it's part of the charm.
Another interesting thing is how often a character's appearance does not include the expected personality. The scoundrel Cogburn and his clothes are visibly worn. He is not well groomed and probably carries the scent of aged whiskey. Yet he proves to be a far superior gentleman than the professional looking Marshal LaBoeuf, who makes it clear early on that he is not afraid to strike a female. The villain Chaney appears to be more confused than sadistic, a contrarian take over the typical invincible bad guy. Hence, he is just as vulnerable as the heroes.
Since most of the story is seen through Mattie Ross' perspective, there are many camera shots designed to represent her POV. Some of the big confrontations are seen from Mattie's distant position, leaving the viewer to piece together what might have been said before the fight. It also lowers the predictability of the turning points.
True Grit stays confident in its direction through the entire duration. It's not the boldest project produced by the Coen Brothers, but it is one of their finest on an already impressive filmography. The legend of the Coens and Rooster Cogburn lives on.