Theatrical Review: TRUE GRIT
Writers: Ethan Coen and Joel Coen
Directors: Ethan Coen and Joel Coen
Cast: Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, and Barry Pepper
Let’s just get this out of the way — John Wayne is an American institution. There is no way around that, and anyone who disagrees with me only proves he is either a know-nothing or un-American.
On a more timid scale, the same can be said for directors Joel and Ethan Coen. The Coen brothers have made modern American classics for over 30 years, and have a history of reinventing even the most genre-defining films. Remaking one of The Duke’s most popular films needed the right hands with the greatest attention to detail, and it can be questioned if even the Coen brothers could live up to the potential critical fallout.
While it is clear from the start that the newest TRUE GRIT is not a strict remake of the previous version, but rather a more faithful adaptation of Charles Portis' darkly funny novel, it’s hard not to draw comparisons to its predecessor. The names and plot are the same, and Jeff Bridges is perfectly cast to take up Wayne’s mantel as Rooster Cogburn. Cogburn is a maverick U.S. Marshal taking up residence in a small Arkansas town. He is enlisted by Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) to help find the man who killed her father and bring him back to Arkansas for justice. Before he sets out with the charming and fast-talking Mattie, he partners up with Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) to find the murderous Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), a man they both want for different reasons.
The original TRUE GRIT came out in 1969 and won Wayne his first and only Academy Award. The remake has the potential to do the same for 2010 Best Actor winner Jeff Bridges. Unlike many of his other roles where he tends to slip into Dude-like acting, Bridges disappears as Cogburn. He has more than one stand-out performance, as he displays his ability to embrace the gloomy nature of Cogburn while injecting more humor than Wayne was ever able to do. His chemistry with newcomer Steinfeld shows Cogburn’s heart, and his buddy-comedy display with Damon elevate both actors to a new level in their careers. This is how a dark comedy should be made — interspersing funny moments with a serious, gritty, and realistic theme.
I don’t want to pass over the great performances by both Steinfeld and Damon. From our first introduction to Mattie through her adult narration, we know a special kind of actress is going to need to portray this hardened woman’s 14 year old self. Steinfeld brings sassy to a new level, and her performance was on a level equal to Bridges. She could hold her own against a 60 year old man, and her display of reserved vulnerability proved that she was the perfect choice by the Coen brothers. I cannot wait to see more from her.
The acting, directing, and cinematography of TRUE GRIT are spot-on and rival anything that has come out this year. This is the kind of movie that will please both genre and non-genre fans.
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