Movie Review: True Grit

I’ve never been a fan of westerns, so the “remake of one of the best movies ever” thing was a bit lost on me. For me the draw of True Grit has nothing to do with The Duke and everything to do with The Dude.

I’ve always been a fan of the Coens, subtract The Lady Killers and Intolerable Cruelty and I can safely say I enjoy every movie they have ever made. Yes, there are a few that I hold near and dear to my heart, one of those films I hold incredibly close, is The Big Lebowski. While everyone screamed praises for the original True Grit after the remake announcement, I could only think about dialog; how great it was going to be to see the Coens’ comedic timing thrown back into the lips of The Dude. To me the real story wasn’t about a remake but rather a reunion. A reunion that would rise to all of my expectations.

True Grit tells the story of Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) and her journey of retribution for her murdered father. To find this retribution she seeks the help of Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) a federally licensed marauder that is known for bringing the exact kind of justice that Mattie is looking for. After finding the means to purchase the service of Mr. Cogburn, the two reluctantly set out together to hunt down her father’s killer, Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin). While their adventure has all the obstacles that you would expect from a film like this it’s the bond between the characters that really make it what it is.

Yes, True Grit is a remake and yes, that film won John Wayne an Oscar. I could spend my written time with the film comparing this to that but I won’t. I really don’t see any point in it, what you really want to know about True Grit is if its a good film. Well, it is. In fact it’s a great film and what makes it great is the depiction of its characters. You really can’t go wrong when you have Matt Damon, Jeff Bridges,  and Josh Brolin all in one film. Give them just a bit of witty dialog and they can all three carry you to the promise land. What’s surprising about True Grit is the ability of a relatively unknown actress to hold her own against those greats.

I’m still in awe of how good Hailee Steinfeld is as the quick-witted Mattie Ross. Steinfeld provides just as much of a draw as her top billed counter parts, so much that her name placement in the end credits still warrants disappointment on my third viewing. Steinfeld manages to steal her fair share of scenes from some of my all time favorite actors and does so with grace. Though Steinfeld is great, I’ve never had such a hard time deciding who was my favorite actor in a film is before. That in itself is a great testament to the talent that is in True Grit. The film really shifts your feelings about all it’s characters to the point that you end up loving them all equally.

All three main characters compliment each other elegantly, as they just let the story bring them to life. None more so than Matt Damon as the Texas Ranger La Boeuf. While La Boeuf is a little lacking when it comes to wit when compared to his companions, he makes up for every bit of it with heart. No one has the ability to show this better than Matt Damon. I have watched Damon for years and he still surprises me every time I see him on the screen. I enjoy his comic timing, his dramatic moments, and even his spurts of action. The great thing about True Grit is that he gets to show all of this. He embraces the role of the “kick back” cowboy with frilly chaps and bright noisy spurs in a way that fits in with the Coens’ toothless and dirty West. Damon has no problem throwing out the laughs just as fast as the great Bridges, and keeping up with Bridges in a Coens’ movie is an achievement in it’s own.

Every time I watch Bridges now I’m brought back to thoughts of how ridiculous it was that people were suggesting that he was making a come back in last year’s Crazy Heart. Bridges has always been here, has always been good and I think he proves that fact even more in True Grit. S o much that I wish that this film had been released last year as Rooster is a more fitting role for the Bridges I know and love. While Crazy Heart was a rock bottom drama and I still loved Bridges in the film, it’s a film like True Grit that he really shines. Rooster is a wonderfully complex character, Bridges plays him beautifully. He’s so realistic as Rooster that you can almost smell his whiskey breath emoting from the screen and in one look, tell you exactly what’s on his mind. To this day I’m still shocked that he can get me laughing with just a look in his eyes and no one uses that look quite like the Coens.

I’m not sure how they are doing it but, the Coens are rapid firing great films year after year. I’m wondering if they sleep much and what kind of great drugs they are on to produce so much quality in so little time. All joking aside though, they did a great job on all aspects of True Grit. It has everything you would expect from a Coen Brothers film and more. It’s almost as if the Westerns genre was calling to them. The only time in the film where you might think they are out of their element is in one of the final horse-riding scenes. In this scene we are treated to some extremely distracting green screen, driven by a robotic horse. With the overall film being so great though is hard to pick on such a small detail. But, I said it so I’m the asshole.

I’m not quite sure where True Grit will end up on my year’s end list but I do know it will be near the top. Even if you don’t enjoy the genre I suggest you see this film. I can’t really think of any group that would be disappointed by it. It’s a true film for everyone and I can’t say that for a lot of the movies I love this year. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry and you may just forget that there is another True Grit.

I give True Grit 5 “underhanded Lebowski quotes” 5

by Ryan Davis

About Ryan Davis

Ryan is the Founder of Lost in Reviews, a member of The Kansas City Film Critic's Circle, and a key component in the movement to digitally restore the 1986 classic film The Gate. Ryan is also the co-host of Blu Monday a DVD and Blu Ray review show which Lost in Reviews co-founder Angela Davis also appears. While he may be a film and music snob, that doesn't mean you can't be friends. Well it could if you don't like the same bands or films he does, overall it might be best to avoid the subject all together.

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