As I’ve said before, I’m not a huge fan of the western genre. There are some modern day westerns and a couple spaghetti westerns that I enjoy, but all in all I’m not really a fan. But, I do love the Coen Brothers, so that was enough to get me to see the remake/retelling of the novel and American western classic, True Grit.
Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) is an intelligent and persistent fourteen year old girl growing up in the rough and tough old west. When her father is gunned down by one of his hired men, Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), Mattie enlists the help of Deputy U.S. Marshal “Rooster” Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), a drunken, violent officer of the law. Joining them on their mission is Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), who has also been chasing Chaney and is tasked with bringing him back to Texas to hang for his crimes. While these three people may go about things in different ways, they all have the same goal: retribution.
This is not your typical Coen Brothers’ movie. The cynicism, strangeness, and all around weird elements that make their movies what they are, are pretty much gone. Every now and then, mostly through the witty dialogue, we remember who is writing and directing this film. But, as I said before, I love the Coen Brothers and I also liked this movie, but it certainly is far from my favorite movie by the directing duo.
The characters and performances are all above average and captivating. Hailee Steinfeld is fantastic, especially at her age, and delivers her lines with ease, even when they get over the top with ridiculous vocabulary. Jeff Bridges runs away with the movie with his tough talking and slurred speech. The thing is, I had to put on subtitles just to understand what he was saying. Great character, but you have to listen closely. Barry Pepper and Matt Damon are fine too, but there’s not competition between Haille Steinfeld and Jeff Bridges. This is their movie.
I was a little shocked by the realism of True Grit, especially for a PG-13 rating. There isn’t a whole lot of violence, but when there is, it’s really intense and has bloody aftermaths. There were times where I thought to myself, “This should be R.” But this works in favor of the movie. Westerns are a genre that really needs to convince me to like whatever I’m watching. If they’re cheap tame, then I really have no interest. I need my westerns to be raw, violent, and real. With the help of great set design, cinematography, and the realistic violence, I was totally convinced.
I do feel a little cheated by this movie though. I really wanted to see more of a chase between our heroes and villains. Instead, there are a lot of scenes of banter and tracking, which helps with character development, but I got pretty bored. Also, the big showdown at the end was over pretty quickly, but now that I think about, that’s probably what it was actually like back then, so I’ll give it that. Still, there were plenty of scenes that I feel could have been cut down or gotten rid of all together. Slow is fine, but I feel like the pacing of this movie stopped to rest at some points.
In the end, I really like this movie, but it doesn’t really rank at the top of the Coen Brothers list with films like The Big Lebowski, Fargo, and O Brother, Where Art Thou. This is a different Coen Brothers, who want to pay respect to a classic genre and who do it very well. True Grit is a top notch western. I’ll definitely watch it again, and try to look past its flaws.