Screen Rant's Vic Holtreman Reviews True Grit
For anyone concerned that this review will spend a lot of time comparing the Coen brothers' remake of True Grit to the 1969 original, you're in luck - it's been many years since I watched the one with John Wayne, so you'll be getting a "stand alone" review of this latest film.
It's a simple story: The daughter of a murdered father in the Old West is out for justice against the man who did the deed - but with an unlikely protagonist... a 14 year old girl. The girl enlists an old, rough-hewn man of the law to help her track down and capture the villain. It's a character-driven film and its success or failure rests fully on the shoulders of these two characters.
Thank goodness the Coens chose Hailee Steinfeld and Jeff Bridges as the shoulders on which to rest this responsibility.
Hailee absolutely rules the screen as young Mattie Ross. She's brash, overly confident in order to be taken seriously, and someone not to be messed with. While some might find her annoying, I found her to be an absolute joy to witness on screen and was sad whenever the movie veered away from her to focus on other characters. Jeff Bridges - what can you say? The "dude" rules. He owns the role of Rooster Cogburn here, without a doubt. Old, crotchety, weary and wise - it's all there and he wears it like a comfortable old leather jacket.
Matt Damon plays LaBoeuf, a straight-laced, by-the-book, proud Texas Ranger. He's there to add a touch of humor to the film, and while I'm sure many will disagree with me, next to Steinfeld and Bridges I thought he really paled in comparison. That's not to say he wasn't good in the role - it's just a case of a small candle juxtaposed against two roaring fires. Having said that, I did warm up to him towards the end of the film.
The killer who is being tracked throughout the film is named Tom Chaney, and we have no idea who our heroes will be up against when they finally meet him. He's painted alternately as a canny villain and as a not so bright run of the mill criminal. When we finally meet Josh Brolin in the role, the way he plays it is an interesting combination of both.
Now I don't usually begin reviews with breakdowns of the actors/characters, but in a film like this it's all about them, and frankly they're so rich that they will be what you remember about the film more than anything else after you leave the theater. It's not just each character, but the interplay and dialog between them that makes True Grit a rich experience. The scene where Mattie negotiates an experienced shop owner into excruciating, painful submission is worth the price of admission just on its own.
As to the rest, the Coens have delivered what can only be called a classic Western. You won't find any "cool" camera angles, no quick-cut, hip editing here - just simple, classic direction. Considering what's out there today this is a breath of fresh air. Beautiful vistas, sets, costumes, gunfights and cinematography that feel genuine to the era - the Coens just did a damned good job here. If there's one complaint from me, it's that I enjoyed the first half of the film (which was much more Mattie/Rooster focused) than the second half, where more characters came in and took away from the screen time of those two wonderful actors and their characters.
At the end of the film, I felt genuinely disappointed that it was over - and I'm here to tell you I can't remember the last time I felt that way about ANY movie. True Grit gets a big, big recommendation from me.
Here's the trailer for True Grit: