karalyn rapp debuts with a review of the Coen Brothers’ latest …
Grit: a man who, looking down the barrel of a gun, digs his heels into the dirt, rolls up his sleeves, and beckons for danger to take its best shot. Taking the bull by its horns. Moxie. Guts.
True Grit follows young Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), looking for a man with exactly this kind of character to help her find the criminal who killed her father, and avenge his death. The antagonist, played by Josh Brolin (No Country For Old Men), has joined up with a gang of rugged outlaws too formidable for a headstrong 14-year-old girl to handle on her own. Searching for the meanest, baddest and toughest man around, Mattie enlists the help of a wildly eccentric U.S. Marshall, Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges). An out-of-town lawman, LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), turns out to be looking for the same fugitive. Together, this unlikely trio embarks on a dangerous journey into unknown Indian territory in search of justice and vengeance.
The film is based on the 1968 Charles Portis novel by the same name. It was originally adapted to screen in 1969 by director Henry Hathaway and starred John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn — the film that won him his only Oscar. “It is at least a two-man job to take him alive,” a quote that eclipses both films, is a perfect foreshadowing for the fact that two men would bring this timeless story back to life. Directors Joel and Ethan Coen put their signature style on this classic tale. They do not try to outshine the first — just reintroduce it to a modern audience. The Coen brothers’ adaptation could easily be a contender as one of this year’s best.
Visually, the Coen Brothers are no strangers to authenticity. They chose a more dusty and abrasive approach to their cinematography, rather than a John Ford-style Western with panoramic landscapes and sprawling frontiers. This film focuses more on its characters and the development of their conflicts.
As can be expected from an all-star cast, the acting is excellent and each character brings their own personal flavor to the table. As Rooster Cogburn, Bridges rides strong off of his Oscar-winning performance in 2009’s Crazy Heart. Cogburn is violently flawed, unorthodox and a drunk — but loveable and entertaining. His rough-around-the-edges demeanor and complete disregard for manners prove to be some of his most enjoyable qualities. Bridges nails the character and does it with both guns blazing (literally).
Although Damon’s acting is unsurprisingly on-point, this role is common and conventional for him. His cookie-cutter character is nothing out of the ordinary, but still very satisfying. On the other hand, Steinfeld shows an amazing amount of screen presence. Her role is a complex one and could have been compromised in the hands of anyone else. With little big-screen experience, she takes on this role with a convincing realism and shows great potential as an actress.
Peppered with laughs and gun-slinging suspense, True Grit proves to keep you intensely interested. Mattie sets off to find a man with real courage, and along the trail discovers how strong it really runs in her blood. This development makes for a captivating experience, leaving viewers in search of their own true grit.