True Grit might not receive the enduring recognition that some of writers/directors Joel and Ethan Coens’ previous works have. Its plot
isn't original and its execution isn’t as creative or memorable as their best films. But that doesn’t stop True Grit from being a damn good
Based on a novel by Charles Portis, True Grit was previously adapted for the screen in 1969, a film that won an Oscar for the legendary John
Yet the Coens’ version doesn’t smell of adaptation or remake.
There is a great flow to this film, a combination of a streamlined screenplay and editing.
The dialogue is king. There are a number of superbly written sequences, none better than one early in the film where 14-year-old Mattie
Ross haggles with a local merchant.
Belying her age, Mattie is a fiery, razor sharp adolescent who out-talks and outwits those far older than her.
Hailee Steinfeld’s performance as Mattie is the heart of this film and it would be shocking if she doesn’t receive award consideration for
this role. She goes toe-to-toe with some formidable actors here and steals many of the scenes she’s in.
One of my pet peeves is when a youngster is given dialog that is far too sophisticated for someone of that age. But young Steinfeld’s
performance is so natural and poised that we never have a problem accepting and enjoying every minute of it.
Following the murder of her father, the stubborn Mattie seeks the services of U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn to track him down.
Jeff Bridges takes over the role of Cogburn for Wayne and, very wisely, makes it his own. Bridges’ grunting performance never veers too
far towards imitation, even if some of those grunting deliveries make his lines nearly unintelligible.
He does provide the film with a wonderful deadpan humor as the film never takes itself too seriously to have a little fun.
Matt Damon is also along for the ride as the Texas Ranger LaBoeuf.
The three leads have a great chemistry and it is their work in conjunction with the great dialog that makes True Grit such a success.
The plot is as simple as it seems. It’s a tale of revenge. And while I hesitate to hold that against the film, perhaps it limits it from being more
memorable than it is.
There’s also the issue of the villains of the film, played by Josh Brolin and Barry Pepper. They have so little screen time that they really
don't have much of a presence in the film overall. There is also a conflict between Bridges and Pepper that feels like it should have been
Because of these issues, True Grit is a film that comes up just short of greatness.
As we expect from a Coen brothers’ film, the direction is steady, never drawing too much attention to itself, and Roger Deakins’
cinematography is once again very good.
On the other hand, but a nice surprise nonetheless, Coen-composer Carter Burwell (whose work is generally forgettable) provides a
Although it’s unlikely True Grit will thoroughly blow you away, it’s an almost deceptively good film that does rank among the best of the
year. The Coens’ screenplay takes what I would consider somewhat limited source material and injects it with a great wit. The film is
beautifully made and contains three exceptional performances.
Even for those hesitant of the genre, True Grit is an easy recommendation.
* * * ½
(out of four)
Written and Directed by: Joel & Ethan Coen
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld, Matt Damon,
Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper
Cinematography by: Roger Deakins
Music by: Carter Burwell
Released: December 22, 2010; 110 Minutes