Movie review by Neil Sadler
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper, Hailee Steinfeld
Directors: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Of all John Wayne’s films, TRUE GRIT is perhaps the most iconic and so a remake would always be risky. The Coen Brothers only other remake was the less than successful THE LADYKILLERS. Bearing these factors in mind, the fact that TRUE GRIT not only supersedes the original but also proves what the Coen brothers are capable of, even without the flashy tricks and quirky dialogue that characterise their early films.
But the real key to TRUE GRIT’S success is both in the simplicity of the storytelling and the faultless performances of the main characters.
The story is told from the perspective of Mattie Ross, a fourteen year old sent to collect the body of her father who seeks justice from her killer. To do so, this surprisingly level headed and adult fourteen year old hires Rooster Cogburn, an aging, one-eyed drunk, but determines to follow him until she sees justice done.
As Mattie Ross, Hailee Steinfeld is a revelation. She produces a performance that more than matches her co-stars Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon and shows a maturity and heart that drives the film in a way that the original never quite did. Neither cute nor cloying, Mattie embodies the ‘true grit’ of the title from her opening voice over right up until the final shots of her as an older woman. The fact that she carries the film over the much older and experienced actors will hopefully get her some recognition.
Jeff Bridges proves he is not only one of the best character actors in Hollywood but that he now commands such screen presence that he can erase the memory of John Wayne from the part of Rooster Cogburn, the damaged drunken Marshall that Mattie hires to catch her father’s killer. As Cogburn he is funny, scary, annoying but always watchable.
Matt Damon never seems to lose his “boyish good looks” despite some scary facial hair and losing a few teeth. Played mostly for comic relief, his turn as LaBoeuf is mostly on the periphery, but he shows a neat comic touch whenever on screen.
And as usual the Coen’s pepper their film with a fantastic ensemble cast who each have their moment to shine, but rarely at the expense of the story. They build a quirky, dirty and gritty world in which these characters and the story develop.
But the film’s greatest strength and the reason it works so well is the simplicity of the story. I cannot think of any scenes that do not progress the story or build character and as it moves towards the confrontation between Mattie and her father’s killer, it constantly surprises. Regardless of your feelings on westerns, and I admit I am not a great fan, TRUE GRIT is as near perfect a film as you are likely to find this year.