Review by Rob Carnevale
IT’S not often you find yourself praising a remake let alone hailing it as better than the original but the Coen brothers’ True Grit fits that bill.
A bona fide instant classic, the film sits comfortably alongside the likes of Unforgiven, The Wild Bunch and The Magnificent Seven as one of the finest examples of the Western genre. Not to mention one of the very best films of this or any year.
Far from existing in the shadow of John Wayne’s original movie, the Coens have gone back to the source material of Charles Portis’ novel and realigned it’s focus upon the young lady at the centre of the story.
In doing so, they also provide a platform for one of the most astonishing breakthrough performances by a young lady (child would be doing her a disservice) in recent memory.
As Mattie Ross, 14-year-old Hailee Steinfeld is a revelation, more than holding her own against the formidable likes of Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Josh Brolin and imbuing her character with a perfect mix of fearlessness and innocence.
She sets the standard early on with a brilliant bartering scene between herself and a wily but out-played horse dealer. And she continues to grow as a character right until the poignant conclusion. It’s an achievement made all the more impressive by virtue of the fact that she’s also relaying the Coens’ richly nuanced text.
Ross is, of course, the catalyst for the event that drives the movie – the murder of her father by Josh Brolin’s Tom Chaney.
Dead set on revenge, she hires shoot first lawman Rooster Cogburn (Bridges) and accompanies him on the trail, together with a cocksure deputy, LaBoeuf (Damon), slowly developing a friendship and trust that brings out the paternal instincts in both men.
And it’s in this trio of relationships that the Coens’ film genuinely excels, providing each actor with the chance to build a memorable character in their own right.
Bridges, as he did in his last outing with the brothers (The Big Lebowski) excels, riding gruff, weathered but tall in the saddle as the no-nonsense Cogburn – a very different beast to Wayne but no less authoritative. His relationship with Mattie is, by turns feisty and nurturing.
Damon, too, is brilliant as LaBeouf, displaying a lovely line in self deprecating humour and a banter with Bridges that is witty and insightful. But he, too, gets to share some lovely moments with Steinfeld.
Aside from the marvellous performances, True Grit is also well served by some typically beautiful cinematography from Roger Deakins and some smart, witty direction from the Coens.
It’s violent, too, delivering the set pieces with a brutal efficiency befitting the genre and which is reminiscent of the Coens’ own No Country For Old Men. But it also carries an emotional resonance that’s more akin to Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven.
If there are criticisms they are but minor ones. I would have liked to see more of Josh Brolin and Barry Pepper’s villains.
But in most other regards, True Grit is as close to movie perfection as you can get. It is a masterpiece and one that you’ll want to revisit over and over again.
Running time: 110mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: June 13, 2011
- Buy it on DVD (Amazon)
- Buy it on Blu-ray (Amazon)
- Read our review
- Jeff Bridges interview
- Hailee Steinfeld interview
- True Grit Photo Gallery