Movie Review: Coen Brothers know ‘True Grit’

Writer/Director duo The Coen Brothers (Joel and Ethan) show their understanding of what “True Grit” really is with their marvelous adaptation of Charles Portis’ 1968 novel “True Grit.”

The Coen brothers (“No Country for Old Men” and “Fargo”) mix their style of violence and humor with Portis’ dialogue in such a way that the novel is truly brought to life on the big screen in all the ways the 1969 version wasn’t.

The film stars Jeff Bridges as tough-as-nails Federal Marshal Rooster Cogburn (portrayed by John Wayne in the 1969 version, for which he won an Oscar), newcomer Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross, Matt Damon as the Texas ranger LeBouef, and Josh Brolin as the murderous Tom Chaney.

Like the novel, the Coen brothers weave their tale around Mattie Ross (Steinfeld), a spirited 14-year-old girl whose father is gunned down by their hired hand Tom Chaney (Brolin) during winter in the late 1870s.

Mattie is determined to bring Tom to justice in Fort Smith, Arkansas and see him hang for her father’s murder.

This is the beginning of a long journey for Mattie, which leads her into the Indian Territory outside of Arkansas and has her dealing with Texas ranger LeBouef (Damon) who has his own plans for Tom.

Bridges brings Portis’ character Rooster Cogburn alive with his grisly, mean, drunken and cantankerous portrayal of the ‘one-eyed fat man.’  Bridges does a far better job with this character than John Wayne did because he truly embodies the crass Cogburn from the novel.

While the Coen brothers took a lot of creative license with LeBouef’s character, Damon shines as the uppity Texas ranger.

However, it is the teenage newcomer Hailee Steinfeld who steals the movie and captures the spirit and determination of Mattie Ross.  It couldn’t have been easy for this girl to share the screen with icons like Bridges, Damon and Brolin, but she does an excellent job and gives Mattie dimension in a way that was missing in the 1969 movie.

And Roger Deakins’ cinematography is breathtaking; the old West is shown like it hasn’t been seen in years.

It’s quite refreshing to see that there are still filmmakers out there who can make a good ol’ fashion western and don’t give in to the Hollywood style endings.

**** out of 5