Plot After hired hand Tom Chaney (Brolin) kills her farmer father and flees, indomitable 14 year-old Mattie Ross (Steinfeld) hires tough, one-eyed US Marshal and heavy-drinking reprobate Reuben J. ‘Rooster’ Cogburn (Bridges) — a man with “true grit” — to bring him in. Joined by Texas Ranger La Boeuf (Damon), the odd posse head into Indian territory on their manhunt.
The Coen Brothers have done it again, and never more exquisitely. At long last Coen devotees who have yearned to see them make an honest-to-goodness, rootin’ tootin’ Western can attain Movie Nirvana. Okay, No Country For Old Men is a Western, but a cruelly contemporary one; this time out we are taken back to around 1880, when the Choctaw Nation had not yet become Oklahoma, and there are horses and six-guns, outlaws, vigilantes and horse traders, a craggy lawman who is a law unto himself and a Texas Ranger wearing spurs that jingle jangle. True Grit is majestic, not just the stuff of a classic Western but an epic quest with Biblical and mythical tones. And heart.
It was inevitable in the 1960s that Charles Portis’ phenomenally popular True Grit, a wonderful and irresistibly cinematic novel that originated as a serial published in the mainstream American weekly magazine The Saturday Evening Post, should be made quickly into a film. At the time, one couldn’t have hoped for better than veteran director Henry Hathaway, with John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn at last roaring his way to the Oscar for Best Actor. Honestly, though, the 1969 True Grit is not a great film and certainly not as good as the book. It has great, iconic moments, chiefly the “one-eyed fat man” charging four outlaws at a gallop and the indelible final freeze-frame image of Wayne and his favourite horse, Ole Dollar, jumping a fence to immortality. It has Robert Duvall and Dennis Hopper. But the casting of pop-charting country singer Glen ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’ Campbell as Texas Ranger La Boeuf (pronounced La Beef) was someone’s unfortunate concession to ‘trendiness’ with a misguided suggestion of ‘romantic interest’. Kim Darby, though a nice enough young actress, was in her twenties and a mother when she played Mattie Ross with her breasts strapped flat and a tomboy’s crop instead of the neatly austere long plaits indispensible to the dour child conjured by Portis. (It could have been worse: Darby was a late replacement for Mia Farrow.) In any case, the adaptation was turned into Wayne’s rousing showcase.
Joel and Ethan Coen, in returning to the novel, have achieved the same thing they did so brilliantly with Cormac McCarthy’s No Country For Old Men; they have been remarkably true to the novel while also rendering it unmistakably Coen-esque. They have mined from Portis every possible wry, dry, absurd or twisted nuance of story, dialogue, incident and character. Crucially they have been mindful that this is Mattie Ross’ story. It is about the most significant experience and relationship of her life, a journey on which a stubborn, resolute child from Yell County, Arkansas, witnessed the depraved violence, the heroism and the loving comradeship of which humanity is capable. The odyssey is recounted by Mattie decades later, with her final observations serving as a wistful coda for the Wild West itself, when its memory and monumental men had diminished into travelling-circus entertainment.
The Dude is his own inimitable man, with no need to try to fit into The Duke’s boots. The man Pauline Kael considered “the most natural and least self-conscious screen actor that’s ever lived” invests Rooster with a rascally unpredictability that is signature Jeff Bridges. He’s a hard-drinking, cantankerous, trigger-happy slob at seeming ease with himself. It is all the more affecting, then, to watch his Rooster expose himself emotionally, gradually sufficiently touched by young Mattie’s pluck and grit to confide old sorrows entombed in a shrivelled but still beating heart. The chemistry Bridges achieves with 14 year-old, bright-as-a-button newcomer Hailee Steinfeld is magical. She, whose toughest challenge may have been keeping a straight face and sustaining the character’s sombre demeanour, makes Mattie endearing despite her precocious moral certitude and righteous indignation. From the early scene when she outmanoeuvres a wily horse trader with fast talking, daunting maturity and brain-boggling calculation, the girl has the film wrapped around her little finger. When, left behind by Rooster and La Boeuf (Matt Damon) out of concern and condescension, she plunges her horse into a river and struggles across to catch them, it is hard not to cry at Mattie’s courage. Later on, there is no question of not crying.
The language is tirelessly amusing and charming for its sadly obsolete, curiously poetic elegance, a reminder — like the startlingly lyrical letters poor farm boys wrote home from Civil War battlefields — that isolated 19th century American rural folk often learned their ABCs from the one book every home had, the King James Bible. Not one contraction is to be heard in the film, and strong insults are along the order of, “The love of decency does not abide in you!”
Bridges, Josh Brolin and even the unseen J. K. Simmons as the voice of the family lawyer, J. Noble Daggett, invoked by Mattie as her trump card in her brisk business negotiations, are returning Coen hands. Damon fits gracefully into the Coen company as the cocky galoot who attaches himself to Mattie’s undertaking with a rival, prior claim to the fugitive Chaney, wanted in Texas for the murder of a senator, and a career-maker for La Boeuf if he brings him back. Barry Pepper is a revolting treat as outlaw ‘Lucky’ Ned Pepper (no relation!), and gets the legendary scene, taunting Rooster with “Bold talk for a one-eyed fat man!”, which as Last Words go surely qualify as Famous. Yet again a Coen cast is full of the most wonderful faces, from the stars to the background players and extras, from three miscreants about to be hanged to two small Indian boys unfortunate enough to be in Rooster Cogburn’s peripheral vision and reach when he’s in a mood. The film is full of small details that are gems, like the telling shot of La Boeuf’s dandy spurs or the fantastically surreal entrance of a character who happens to be dressed entirely in a bearskin — head included — and proudly explains he practices dentistry and has procured the corpse draped across his saddle from an Indian “for two dental mirrors and a bottle of expectorant”.
British cinematographer Roger Deakins, who by now is collaboratively a third Coen brother, sure makes purdy pictures, and uses the novel’s winter setting to glorious advantage. Cogburn’s last line — the cry, “I have grown old!” — reverberates with grief, rage, frustration and defeat across the most majestic of snowy, starry, silent nights. Composer Carter Burwell, who has scored every one of the Coens’ films, delicately incorporates the late 19th century hymn Leaning On The Everlasting Arms as a recurring theme (it was sung by Robert Mitchum in Night Of The Hunter; is this a homage?). That song of praise begins with the words, “What a fellowship, what a joy divine.” Which neatly describes the film.
Verdict Terrific: tough, exciting, funny, gorgeous and bewitchingly acted, this is darn close to perfection.
Beautifully shot, the exhilarating True Grit is told from Hallie Steinfield, who gives one of the best performances of 2010, and from the Coen brothers, who once again proves that they are the masters of modern westerns ... More
Watched this for the 2nd time last night, seemed even better than the first viewing. Expecting an incomprehensible Bridges meant I paid more attention to what he was saying so no issues there, I think might well be his best performance, even better than The Dude. Hailee Steinfeld is stunning too (in the acting sense, not the looks), each line delivered perfectly and never suffering from that drama-school acting that often taints younger performances (see the first 3-4 Potter movies). I also app... More
... don't understand all the fuss. It's very nearly brilliant, but a Hero is only as good as their opponent and the opponents in this are one-dimensional. For all the Coen-esque language and details, there is very little plot. Bridges is great, but simply doesn't have enough to do. Brolin has almost nothing to do. Steinfield is awesome but the coda is slapped on quickly and harshly and she keeps us at such a distance that it's hard to care about her. ... More
Girded by strong performances from Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, and newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, and lifted by some of The Coens' most finely tuned, unaffected work, True Grit is a worthy companion to the Charles Portis book, and The Coen Brothers bst fil to date. ... More
Something of an interesting film in my opinion, as the Coen brothers have optioned to do a much more accessible film than most previous efforts with True Grit. It's still aesthetically 'Coen', obviously, but this time around, it's all about the touches rather than the piece as a whole; understandably so too, as it is, after all, a remake. At the bare bones, the characterisation and casting is near-perfect, the script is (as always) superb, and the film is beautifully shot. I don't feel it fully... More
All the usual Coen Brothers ingredients, great cast, well acted. Maybe I need to read the book (I don't get time to get into books), but I felt the villains could have been deeper. Couldn't connect with them and felt that Brolin and Pepper could've been any other actors. Wasted opportunity. ... More
Well I'm annoyed. Got this from Love Film. Over an hour into it, really loving it despite worrying it wouldn't be for me and what do you know? The disc starts skipping. Not a happy camper!I'll have to wait for TV. ... More
As much as I enjoyed watching this, with the great performances (La Bouef, Mattie Ross) i couldn't help but think the subtitles would come in hand, but they didn't work. The whole film works on so many levels, with a great all-rounded finish, it's a shame it's let down by Bridges' drunken slobbering ... More
Profound part romantic, part realistic depiction of the west. If not surreal in places (the bear man for instance). This truely is Steinfeld film, her performance tops the efforts of the other more experienced actors. Not to say that they werent excellant. Its difficult to decide whether this film is worthy of 5 stars. The ending is not over or understated and perhaps a little more drama in the story would have been welcome. Not like im accusing it of being talky but it does somewhat lose pace w... More
About 8 years ago it was looking like the Coen's might have peaked since then we have done No Country/Serious man/ True grit - The best run of films they have had in a long time - Lets hope they can keep it up - ... More
Simply put - this is an amazing movie! Definitely a must see for both fans of the genre and non-fans alike. Incredible performances from everyone involved. The Coens nailed it yet again. Bravo! ... More
i RENTED THIS THE OTHER DAY AND COULD NOT UNDERSTAND A WORD, NOW MY FREINDS GET DRUNK ALOT AND MUMMBLE AND I UNDERSTAND THEM JUST FINE, THIS THOUGH MY GOD IT WAS LIKE WHAT DID HE JUST SAY? WHAT WAS THAT? MUMBBLE MUMBLE GROWN ????? AND IT WAS BORING; FELL ASLEEP. I DONT TEND TO LISTEN TO EMPIRES REVIEWS ANYMORE. IS THERE ANY POINT OF MOVIE REVEWERS ANYMORE ANYWAY ??? ... More
Just to start I would like to say that all the good points of this film have been exhausted by other critics so here's the rest.
I love Jeff bridges but even I struggled to hear what he had to say.
The ending was entirely rushed and pointless, the snakes and the arm where enough but when they had the chance to salvage it at the end by a meeting with cogburn they had to ruin that too with his death. Now the Coen brothers are renouned for there story telling, what happened here was less the Red ... More
This film of a dying genre, may just have brought it back to life...
The Coen's who have kept incredibly close to the book (which I'm 1/2 way through) have chose very, very wisely. The chose to base it on Mattie Ross, instead of Reuben 'Rooster' Cogburn, which was the right thing to do. Newcomer Hailee Steinfeld is terrific...She completely sold it as a stubborn, wise 14 year old girl. Jeff Bridges (The Dude) is brilliant (yet again) as Rooster, from his mumbling voice to his serious stare g... More
It really ain't as good as the best Coen films. But since this is clearly one of the most mainstream of their movies, it should be compared to the other Coen brothers calculated crowdpleasers. Such as Intoralbe Cruelty and The Ladykillers. Those were bollocks but True Grit is really one of the most truly entertaining Coen-piece. ... More
others perchance for humour where you wouldn't usually expect make this film for me. Could have been a straight western tale but their character development is second to none. Thoroughly enjoyed it. ... More
No Country might not be the best point to go from here. True Grit, to me at least, felt like the natural extension of No Country, so if you didn't like TG then No Country might not impress either. It is a very good film tho (and my favourite Coen alongside A Serious Man). What sort of films do you like? The Coen's have covered pretty much every base, so someone ought to be able to recommend something based more closely on your tastes.
I liked Barry Pepper a lot. A reall... More