With True Grit, the Coen brothers bring the classic western into the modern era with incredible results. With gorgeous visuals and great performances, True Grit succeeds on almost every level. The only drawback is that it really is a classic western, updated with modern depictions of violence. Other than that, it doesn’t add anything new. However, it still is an incredibly entertaining and well made western.
Fourteen year old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), distraught over the death of her father, hires Marshall Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to go after the murderer, Tom Cheney (Josh Brolin). The Marshall is reluctant to go after him with a young girl in tow, but cannot overcome Mattie’s persistence. Also chasing Cheney is Mr. LeBoeff (Matt Damon), a Texas Ranger. He joins them for part of their quest.
The most admirable part of the story is its heroine. Mattie is tough and resourceful, and the way she wins over the men in the story is actually pretty heartwarming. Obviously as a fourteen year old she is encountering extraordinary amounts of cruelty and violence on her journey of a type that she has never encountered before. Though it understandably gets to her in some scenes, she bears up extremely well, gaining the respect of the older and more seasoned western heroes around her. Hailee Steinfeld gives an incredible performance, making Mattie tough yet still clearly a young girl. The rest of the performances play well around hers.
The film also deals with the common western theme of revenge. Mattie’s pursuit of it is single minded and very determined. She pays a price for her revenge, but is not sorry to have it. The picture has a harsh eye for an eye viewpoint, but it comes across as only being fair. As I said, there really isn’t much new this film is offering besides the demographic of its heroine. A gang seeks revenge, then achieves it. There are nice scenes of bonding within the group and barren western landscapes on the way, but again, that’s nothing new. It is very entertaining however.
It’s interesting to think of how this film fits into the Coens’ repertoire. While this only the fourth film of theirs I’ve seen, it stands out by not being very Coenesque. There are a couple of scenes where the offbeat humor seems familiar, like the scene with the guys wearing a bear’s head. The violence is obviously indicative. Though if I hadn’t already known they had made the movie, I probably wouldn’t have picked these things out. It’s a very good movie, but you can tell they’re holding back their individuality. It’s still a good film, but it’s hard to peg it as a Coen brothers film (at least for me).
True Grit is a very good film, though it’s the least spectacular I’ve seen from the Coen Brothers thus far. It accomplishes everything it sets out to do, but doesn’t really go deeper than that unfortunately. On pure entertainment value it ranks very highly, but I wish I had more to say about it thematically. That may be my fault, I might just not be seeing it, but from my standpoint it just falls a bit short.
“You must pay for everything in this world, one way and another. There is nothing free except the grace of God.”
Long story short: 3/4 stars
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