|Starring||Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Hailee Steinfeld|
|Directed by||Ethan Coen, Joel Coen|
|Release info||22 December 2010|
To say that the capable filmmaking Coen Brothers possess the Midas touch in practically everything they create on the big screen would indeed be an over-simplistic understatement. After all, can anyone name a vastly unpleasant movie-viewing experience at the hands of these celebrated cinematic siblings? Even their so-called mediocre efforts (“The Hudsucker Proxy”, “The Ladykillers”) are somewhat jarringly interesting in their flawed realization. So it was definitely a no-brainer in trusting the brotherly tandem to present familiar material from yesteryear without the usual corruptible flourishes to taint the previous memories of the treasured original motion picture. For most film directors, this would automatically spell disaster with a capital D. But for the creative collaboration of the related auteurs their resiliency as writing/directing/producing entities goes unquestionably unmatched.
In the wondrous and introspectively perceptive True Grit, the Coens usher in an updated version of John Wayne’s irreverent 1969 western vehicle that won The Duke his only coveted acting Oscar. Penetrating in quirkiness and redemptive fortitude, the Coens construct a ruggedly wry and straight-laced dust-kicking drama fortified with their brand of rustic resonance. Constructively atmospheric in moodiness and gumption, the Coens have devised a saddle-proof saga that ponders so fittingly in this quiet, raging rendition of honor, justice and sacrifice.
Piercing and poetically impish, this millennium-made True Grit may have eclipsed the prior presence of Wayne, Kim Darby, Glen Campbell, Jeff Corey and others because this installment has more zip and zest in its reverence to the caustic consideration of humanity and vengeance. This is probably the case because the Coens had instinctively incorporated the skillful 1968 Charles Portis novel as its reliable blueprint in heart and soul while bypassing the influence of Duke Wayne’s chippy horse-riding hedonism. True, no one can deny the late and great Duke his true grit in a rousing shoot-em up showcase that soared. Then again…nothing can be more true or grittier than the imaginative universe that Joel and Ethan had concocted for the mainstream mindset of a rollicking western with challenging conviction either.
Fourteen year-old Mattie Ross (played with profound precision by newcomer Hailee Steinfeld) is intensely affected by her father’s murder at the hands of a cold-blooded alcoholic named Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin, “No Country For Old Men”, “Milk”, “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger”). Understandably, she wants to avenge her father’s senseless killing and aims to make Chaney pay the deadly price for her beloved papa’s passing. Mattie has decided to track down a notorious lawman in one-eyed, cantankerous U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn (Oscar-winner Jeff Bridges, “Crazy Heart”), a drinking dinosaur of a ragged man that hopefully can play a major role in bringing the non-repenting Chaney to her mercy.
The whiskey-loving Cogburn wasn’t receptive to Mattie’s offer at first to hunt down the elusive weasel but the healthy bounty on Chaney’s head somehow was convincing enough for mono-syllabic Rooster to entertain the disillusioned little girl’s dead serious offer for retaliation. Briefly, the scruffy-faced Rooster Cogburn ditches the determined Mattie and heads out to search for the detestable Chaney alone. Eventually, Cogburn teams up (and bumps heads with) Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) whose own agenda is to capture Chaney for the shooting of a Texan state senator previously. It is a matter of time before the pesky but persistent Mattie finds the two bickering old coots and promises them that she means business when aiming to destroy the “gutless wonder” that killed her daddy over a trivial dispute.
Clearly, the sentimental (and genuine solid anchor) is Steinfeld as the dejected youngster looking to even the score for her perished loved one. She is so vulnerable yet strangely strong and defiant in her confused assertion that achieved payback could mend her broken, disillusioned heart-if only she can manage to tackle her deep-seeded demons about the vile Chaney…with or without the veteran assistance of old codgers Cogburn and LeBoeuf. Steinfeld is forceful, perplexing and provides a thriving angst-ridden performance deserving of Oscar’s watchful eye. Bridges may not make anyone forget Duke Wayne’s Academy Award-winning performance anytime soon but he sufficiently holds his own as the mumbling and stumbling anti-hero looking for some measure of his own self-worth and self-importance.
The supporting players are thoroughly engaging, particularly Damon’s take as the blustery ranger LaBoeuf that tangles with the roguish Rooster while contemplating his own opportunistic gains for nabbing the ruthless Chaney. As Chaney, Brolin-who’s turned into an incredible performer of depth…just witness his acting chops in the underappreciated “W” and aforementioned “Milk”-is sadly not given much to do as the villainous scumbag that offs Mattie’s dear daddy. He’s more riff raffish than staunch demented figurehead that is slightly disappointing given that Brolin can be astoundingly devilish when given the green light to do so. Plus, Brolin’s screen time is so minimal…something curiously questionable given that he’s the main source of Mattie’s treacherous disdain. Rounding out the notable supporting nods are Barry Pepper as Rooster’s pain-in-the-side antagonist Lucky Ned Pepper and Mattie’s temporary disagreeable run-in with her father’s undertaker (Jarlath Conroy from “Day of the Dead”).
The other aspects of the enthralling True Grit are to be recognized beyond the Coen Brothers’ disciplined direction and writing to Roger Deakins’s crisp and lush cinematography and Carter Burwell’s smooth-sounding, fixating musical score. The entire production is crafted impeccably and the storytelling is sensationalistic, probing and challenging thanks to the noted Portis-helmed tome that the Coens cleverly utilized like a treasured map in seeking golden nuggets.
Not since 1992’s Oscar-winning Unforgiven has there been a thought-provoking, substantive western that boldly and beautifully flirts with dark overtones and bandies about its rotating philosophical elements cemented in subtle vibes of indefinable indignation. The Coens and their off-kilter landscape of cinema utopia are marvelously dipped in retribution…and that’s something that consistently carries its undeniable share of grit and gratitude.