Following the murder of her father by hired hand Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), 14-year-old farm girl Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) sets out to capture the killer. 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 back in Texas for his own reasons: a large reward.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
It's rare to hear old American spoken, its formal yet somehow alien turn of phrase adding a texture and veracity to this vibrant and faithful adaptation from the Charles Portis novel, which was published in 1968 (filmed with John Wayne a year later) but spoke in the language of the 18th century. Most contempo films set in the past try to sound more familiar in both phrasing and sensibilities. The impact of this seemingly minor detail cannot be overstated, as it brings us closer to the characters and the setting.
While revenge is the enduring currency of the Western, in True Grit it is actually revenge's more legit cousin, retribution, as the poster declares.
And it's 14 year old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) who seeks it; doggedly. Her father's death at the hands of Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) impells her, but it's her smarts that carry her. Anyone complaining about the lack of strong, moral female roles - or role models - will be greatly pleased by Matty. Steinfeld plays her with a sharp and educated young intellect, but avoids being precocious or brattish. On the contrary, her Matty inspires respect, both for her guts - her own true grit - and for her standards.
The rambunctious side of Jeff Bridges is allowed out to play at full throttle as Rooster Cogburn, the one-eyed frontier Marshall with a reputation for taking no prisoners. Impatient, gruff, whisky drinking double divorcee that he is, Rooster develops a soft spot for Matty.
When Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) arrives on the scene, the tone softens as his self importance gives the film most of its humour. The three of them make a high tension trio as they each tug against the others' motives, and the Coen brothers show their consummate skill as they guide the screenplay and the cast through a detailed landscape of the human condition.
Josh Brolin plays the villain they're after; it's a small role but an important one and he does it well.
Good storytelling drives the drama, with wonderful production design by Jess Gonchor, especially the superbly realised outpost town. Together with Carter Burwell's terrific, unpredictable score and eye pleasing camerawork by Roger Deakins, the film delivers not just retribution but audience satisfaction.
Review by Louise Keller:
The authenticity of the Western is intact in the Coen Brothers' take on True Grit, in which Jeff Bridges assumes the original John Wayne role, eye patch and all. The harshness of the landscape mirrors life; life and death lie side by side, just as Hailee Steinfeld's 14 year old protagonist Mattie Ross sleeps in the company of three corpses in the morgue, when there is nowhere else to sleep.
Leisurely storytelling lures us slowly into Mattie's reality - a young girl earning her spurs and venturing into a man's world in the toughest of conditions. Bridges easily steps into the dusty boots of Rooster Cogburn, the unshaven, one eyed US Marshall who kills without a blink of his one eye and who loves to pull a cork (of whisky). He's tougher than his leather boots and although we discover there is a heart hidden deep within the rough exterior, Bridges' interpretation is tougher and meaner (and with less warmth) than that portrayed in the original by The Duke. The Coens have adapted Charles Portis's novel, not the Marguerite Roberts screenplay, and the result is breathtaking.
In her first feature film, Steinfeld is a sensation as the formidable negotiator intent on avenging her father's murder. She does her research and finds herself 'a man with true grit' who needs much convincing to have her tag along. Matt Damon assumes the Glenn Campbell role of the Texas ranger LaBoeuf (pronounced LeBeef) and does a mighty fine job in what is a difficult role. There are touches of humour, like LaBoeuf's line to Cogburn about 'the sun in your eyes' before giving his eye patch a secondary glance and changing it to the singular, and it seems incongruous to see Mattie competently rolling a cigarette for the Marshall.
The Coen Brothers inject plenty of grit into the film - there is no glamour in the rugged landscape, the empty plains with ragged rocks, streams and dense forests. We are in the Wild West, where the outlaws keep their fingers on the trigger and the winters are harsh. Barry Pepper is perfect as the nasty Lucky Ned Pepper (originally played by Robert Duvall), jagged brown teeth included, while Josh Brolin makes a fist of Tom Chaney, the murderer they are chasing.
Through the lens of cinematographer Roger Deakins, the film looks wonderful as we get a true sense of being in the elements. Less is more and Carter Burwell's subtle music is effectively used. For those who love the genre, this is a western to savour; for the uninitiated, the Coen Brothers' film is one with which to begin a love affair.
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TRUE GRIT (M)
CAST: Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Hailee Steinfeld, Domhnall Gleeson, Barry Pepper, Elizabeth Marvel, Leon Russom, Ed Corbin, Paul Rae, Mary Anzalone
PRODUCER: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, Scott Rudin
DIRECTOR: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
SCRIPT: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen (novel by Charles Portis)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Roger Deakins
EDITOR: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen (as Roderick Jaynes)
MUSIC: Carter Burwell
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jess Gonchor
RUNNING TIME: 112 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Paramount
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 26, 2011