True Grit

Having never seen the 1969 John Wayne version, I can draw no comparisons to this remake. Of course Joel and Ethan Coen ("No Country for Old Men") have their own darkly humorous take in their films, so you have been warned....

You will notice a couple of things immediately: The musical underscore consists of various arrangements of old gospel music, which range from a tantalizingly sparse piano offering to a full-out vocal rendition of Leaning On the Everlasting Arms, during the closing credits. Also, the dialogue is quirky, as there are no contractions. No one says, "gonna" or "doesn't" but instead says "going to" or "does not." This creates a slightly stilted sound which enhances the characters' choice of words, like "stalwart" when describing a Texas Ranger.

Mattie Ross has come to retrieve her father's corpse. He was killed by Tom Chaney, who then stole his horse and crossed the river into Indian territory. After checking around, she determines that the U.S. Marshall she will hire to bring him in is Rooster Cogburn, as he has "true grit," and that's what she needs. Problem is, a Texas Ranger is also on Chaney's trail for an earlier murder committed in Texas.

The casting is delicious:
  • Hailee Steinfeld (mostly TV) is Mattie, a primly determined fourteen year old who is undaunted by the various impediments thrown at her. She is smart, resourceful and courageous. In truth, she epitomizes True Grit! Let's watch this youngster.
  • Jeff Bridges ("Crazy Heart") is Cogburn, a bearded, disheveled drunk...but a crack shot and a ruthless hunter of criminals. Plus, he needs the money she offers to do the job. Bridges clearly relishes his role.
  • Matt Damon ("Hereafter") is our stalwart Texas Ranger. He has no interest in Mattie's problem, his job is to catch Chaney first and take him back to Texas. Damon has become a good utility player; he works in comedies, dramas, TV and animation. He is excellent here.
  • Josh Brolin ("Milk") is Tom Chaney, almost mythical until Mattie gets him in her sights. There was a moment when he drew himself up and I could see the evil in his character's eyes. Brolin has been noticed by awards committees before and I think the best is yet to come.
Little things irritate me, like failing to synchronize the sound of hoof-beats with the sight of a horse galloping; failure to tend the horses, no frontiersman would be so heedless of his animal's needs; the snakes were too contrived, would they nest in a corpse?

In all, suspend disbelief and go enjoy the four lead actors, Hailee in particular. We already expect excellence from the other three.