#34 / 365 – ‘True Grit’ – 110 mins
Cinema Challenge #15 / 115
Following the murder of her father by hired hand Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), 14-year-old farm girl Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfield) sets out to capture the killer. To aid her, she hires the toughest U.S. marshal she can find, a man with “True Grit,” Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogburn (Jeff Bridges). Mattie insists on accompanying Cogburn, whose drinking, sloth, and generally reprobate character do not augment her faith in him. Against his wishes, she joins him in his trek into the Indian Nations in search of Chaney. They are joined by Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), who wants Chaney for his own purposes. The unlikely trio find danger and surprises on the journey, and each has his or her “grit” tested
Following welcome critical acclaim for their 2007 Oscar masterpiece “No Country For Old Men” the Coen brothers (Ethan and Joel) decided to return to the western front with their adaptation of Charles Portis’ successful novel “True Grit”. However if you are trying to draw comparisons with the 1969 John Wayne classic – the ‘title’ is where you should stop and draw a line, as what the Coen’s have crafted here is something completely, majestically different.
Jeff Bridges steps into the perennial John Wayne role of Rooster Cogburn and it’s ironic to think after years of being ignored by the Academy by giving faultless performances “Fearless, “The Fabulous Baker Boys” – he could place a second Oscar on his mantle within twelve months along with his “Crazy Heart” performance. Bridges delivers most of his lines from a buried chin, scruffy voice that sounds like he’s rolling tobacco cigarettes in his mouth with little taints from Bad Blake of Crazy Heart. The film’s real treasure comes in a breakthrough performance by newcomer fourteen-year-old Hailee Stanfield, who plays the sharp and unexpectedly articulate Mattie Ross, a standout exchange involves Mattie bartering with a sheep and pony salesman where everything she gleams onto the screen is nothing short of a revelation, all the time matching the heavyweight presence of Bridges, Damon and Brolin in every scene in which she appears.
Courtesy of British cinematographer Roger Deakins, who is now collaboratively a Coen regular (“Fargo”,”The Big Lebowski”, “A Serious Man”) the film stirs up some of the most sweeping and breathtaking vistas of the West, where from its opening sequence of a flurry of snow to its concluding shot is exquisite, whist all the time this plays out to a tingling Carter Burwell score.
The story itself isn’t complex, but at no point does it feel it needs to be. It’s simply is an old-fashioned tale of retribution at its core, with lots of unexpected humour sprinkled throughout. The Coen brothers are renowned for being the finest filmmakers of our time, where I very much liken them to versatile director, producer and screenwriter Howard Hawks who covered every genre with such brilliance.
The only very minutely criticism I have is that I wanted “True Grit” to continue way beyond its short run time of 110 minutes. The Coens have breathed life into an American Classic with another American Classic, where everything is flawlessly executed.