- Rated PG-13
- Buy the BD
All photos © Paramount Pictures
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
oel and Ethan Coen have always favored the unusual, so it struck me as a little odd that they would choose to adapt Charles Portis’ novel, “True Grit,” for the big screen, because it’s about as seemingly ordinary as Westerns come. Many would even claim that it didn’t need to be remade at all, seeing as how the 1969 John Wayne vehicle has long been considered the definitive version of the story. But while Wayne may have won an Oscar for his performance as the iconic Rooster Cogburn, the Coen brothers' version offers something that Henry Hathaway’s film didn’t: a sense of humor.
Of course, Hathaway’s movie also put the Cogburn character front and center, whereas the story was originally told from the point of view of Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), a 14-year-old girl who sets out to avenge the death of her father after he's killed by a hired farmhand named Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin). Chaney has since fled into Indian Territory and joined up with outlaw Lucky Ned Pepper (Barry Pepper), so Mattie hires the meanest U.S. marshal she can find – the one-eyed, hard-as-nails boozehound Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) – to assist her in bringing him back alive so he can be punished for his crimes. Joining them on the hunt is Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), who has been tracking Chaney for months after he murdered a state senator, but he and Cogburn don’t get along particularly well.
Their scenes together are some of the best, quarrelling like little children over who’s the better shot or teasing one another about their respective physical handicaps. Matt Damon pops in and out of the story a little too often, but he’s a great source of comedy whenever he’s around. Jeff Bridges, meanwhile, is outstanding as Cogburn, though that’s not surprising considering he’s such a great character. It’s far from the career-defining role that it was for The Duke, but Bridges disappears into the part (unlike his more laidback performance in “TRON: Legacy”) and makes it his own. The real star of the film, however, is Hailee Steinfeld, who exhibits a maturity that you just don’t see in many young actors. It’s likely the reason she was plucked from obscurity for the part, and her work alongside Bridges and Damon will not only earn her an Oscar nomination for her troubles, but will pave the way for a promising future in the business as well.
Handling larger-than-life characters like Mattie Ross, Rooster Cogburn and LaBoeuf certainly isn’t new ground for the Coens, but “True Grit” still doesn’t feel very much like one of their films. In fact, apart from Roger Deakins’ gorgeous cinematography and the eloquent dialogue (peppered with the brothers' brand of dark and deadpan humor), they play it almost a little too safe. It's probably the most straightforward, no-nonsense film of their career, although fortunately, it’s not completely devoid of their unique personality. Funny when you least expect it and driven by great performances from Bridges and Steinfeld, “True Grit” is every bit as good as it looks, but it’s far from the Coens’ best.
Two-Disc Blu-ray Review:
It may have walked home from the Oscars empty-handed, but Paramount has still done a great job of putting together a worthy Blu-ray release for "True Grit." There are seven featurettes in all, and they cover everything from the cast, costumes (“From Bustles to Buckskin”), weapons (“Colts, Winchesters and Remingtons”), and production design (“Re-Creating Fort Smith”). There’s even a 30-minute documentary about author Charles Portis (“The Greatest Writer You’ve Never Heard Of”), an all-too-brief look at the brilliance of Roger Deakins’ cinematography, and a DVD and digital copy of the movie.