True Grit 10/12/30 2:51
The tale concerns Mattie Ross, a 14-year-old Arkansas girl whose father has been murdered by an outlaw named Tom Chaney. With a toughness and intelligence beyond her years, she embarks on a mission to find and punish the killer. The Coens wisely make this odd little character, with her quick tongue and inflexible will, the center of their film, and they've chosen an excellent 14-year-old newcomer named Hailee Steinfeld to play her. She hits it out of the park. There is much humor in watching the older male characters being out-witted and out-bargained by this upstart, and we're meant not only to regard her with admiration but to reflect on the difficult position of a girl on the 19th century frontier.
She ends up hiring a bounty hunter named Rooster Cogburn, a man famed for his killing and his drinking, and played by Jeff Bridges. The role of this fat, grizzled, overly talkative, one-eyed marshal is perfect for Bridges, who dives into it with gusto. Here again the Coens are adept at a certain rough comedy, much of it from the novel, in which Cogburn's cavalier attitude to danger and death tends to the hilarious instead of horrifying. Coming along for the ride is Matt Damon, expertly disappearing into the role of a pompous young Texas lawman who is also going after Chaney. When the bad man finally turns up, he's played by Josh Brolin, eerily appropriate for his small but memorable turn.
The humor is a vital part of this adventure, but it's not the winking, darkly sarcastic comedy that the Coens have been known for. The whole thing is played straight—this is an absorbing action western done in thoroughly professional style. You can always expect that a Coen film will look good, and this one's no exception, with Roger Deakins' lustrous camerawork complementing the wonderful production design, every detail of which transports us to the old West. The story ends up taking on a deeper tone, a sadness for what is lost, an elegy for the myth of the loner whose courage redeems when least expected. The John Wayne film had a certain charm, but this version is both darker and wiser in its melding of brutality and tenderness. The western, that preeminently American film genre, rises again with True Grit.