I love the Coen Brothers because, for me, their feature films run the whole gamut – from brilliant (Fargo, The Big Lebowski, No Country For Old Men) to boring (The Man Who Wasn’t There, Miller’s Crossing) to awful (Intolerable Cruelty, The Ladykillers). They’re two of the lucky few – filmmakers who get to make whatever film they want. This time they’re adapting Charles Portis’ novel, something that was done once before in 1969. Thankfully, this remake is nothing at all like the misfire that was The Ladykillers.
The real star of True Grit is Hailee Steinfield, portraying the 14-year-old Mattie Ross, who employs a US Marshall to track down her father’s murderer. The Marshall in question is Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), an overweight, aging, cyclopean man who has a long list of men he’s killed in ‘self-defence’. The pairing of these two is priceless. Mattie is forthright and headstrong, and regularly confounds the adults she engages in conversation. Cogburn has many talents, to be sure, but is usually too drunk to stand up. Together they set out to track down the murderous Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin).
The essential third character in this tale is LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), a young Texas Ranger who’s also on Chaney’s trail. LaBoeuf is an absolute arsehole – full of himself whilst at the same time blissfully unaware of just how much of a loser he is. It’s glorious to be able to see Damon in a supporting role – something it seems he hasn’t done for years and years. He really gets stuck into his character, and must have relished the opportunity to really flex his acting muscles once more. All three of these people go through changes, however, and above all, it’s wonderful to see a film filled with wonderfully over-the-top characters, instead of having at least one person play it straight.
It should be said that, as a general rule, I don’t enjoy Westerns. I did, however, love most of this film. There are a dozen classic scenes that show the Coens are at the top of their game – wonderfully paced and directed to the nth degree. In fact, there were only two things that I didn’t love. One is Carter Burwell’s score, which feels a bit too grandiose and old-school to suit this very offbeat collection of misfits, and the second is a five minute stretch of the movie that was a combination of ugly special effects followed by pointless writing. It’s a pity that the five minutes in question are so darn important, also, since it really clouded my appreciation of the film.
Like the best of the Coens’ work, True Grit boasts a great script and truly memorable characters.Rating: