It was pretty hard to gather my thoughts on TRUE GRIT and resist the urge to continuously make reference to jokes about “Dude goes to the wild wild west” or other bad references such as that. I had prepared for such feelings since I was never familiar with the original starring the legend John Wayne or the novel it is based on; so based on my unfamiliarity with both formats I had no expectations for the film beyond knowing the talent involved. What I came away with wasn’t a feeling of being blown away by the experience the Coen brothers have put together, but satisfied with the dialogue driven old west revenge drama and some Coen humor liberally drizzled on top.
TRUE GRIT follows a young 14 year old girl, Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), coming to Fort Smith to identify the body of her murdered father. While there she looks to employ the duties of a U.S. Marshall to go in search of the murderer, Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), who has ventured into Indian Territory. She enlists the services of the tough but drunken U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) and a tag along Texas Ranger, LaBoeuf (Matt Damon). The trio head off in search of Chaney and the gang of bandits that he is traveling with in order to bring them to justice.
I do not have any huge complaints about the film, but that’s not to say that it’s flawless. I never found myself bored, I enjoyed all the characters, the performances are all solid across the board and the film looks phenomenal. I am a fan of dialogue driven character pieces and this delivers dialogue in spades, with characters that are all unique and interesting. The Coen brother’s humor is undoubtedly present and accounted for and delivered in natural and organic style. I can’t quite pinpoint why exactly I wasn’t completely in love with the film except that the western genre isn’t exactly my top choice, but aside from my personal preference the film is very well done.
Jeff Bridges performance is the anchor of the film, but it’s Hailee Steinfeld that stepped up and caught me by surprise. In the trailers I got somewhat of an annoying vibe and I feared her character would bring the film down, and I’m pleased to say I was wrong. Steinfeld does a great job at appearing strong and confident through her line delivery while also letting the delicate and vulnerable nature of her youth show slightly. Her strength is shown when she outwits and argues with the men around her and never backing down when they push her down and away, but her weakness is displayed when violence takes over and she’s not strong or quick enough to defend herself. The other surprise for me was Matt Damon, who I didn’t expect to have much of an impact in the film, again due to the trailer, but I found myself really enjoying his character. The give in for me was that Jeff Bridges would knock it out of the park once again and he does. It’s almost impossible to not like the characters he plays even when they aren’t supposed to be good guys. The trio of main characters all steal the show so when we are introduced to Josh Brolin and Barry Pepper’s characters our time with them is so short that I wanted to have more time to get to know them a little better as well. Each and every character has their moment to shine and each characters arc is wrapped up in such a way you should not feel cheated in the end, which is why I can’t complain too much about not having more time with some of the secondary characters.
I’m a sucker for gorgeous scenery and on that alone TRUE GRIT won me over. The desolate look of the dry desert town, the wide open plains and the snowy set pieces all had me engaged. Nothing grabs my attention more than having a setting that looks and sounds amazing no matter what’s happening on screen, my attention will be focused and enjoying it on any level I possibly can. The Coen brothers stage every scene so beautifully that on that aspect alone it is worth the time I spent in this world.
The more I talk about the film and replay it in my mind the more I feel I enjoyed it more than I would originally put on. However, I have to say that while I enjoyed the drama, the laughs and the heavy exposition that when the short bursts of violence and shootouts occurred the more I realized that I think what could have made me enjoy it more was more of the fun western shootouts and standoffs. One of my favorite scenes happened so quick in the midst of a cabin interrogation, you can feel the tension building and when the violence occurs it’s done a lot more graphically than me and the rest of my audience had expected in a PG-13 film judging by the audible gasps. My point is not that I was offended by the violence but almost disappointed that there weren’t more scenes like that in the film; as it stands though having the scene there at all is just another reason to recommend it.
All in all TRUE GRIT sails on the three main performances and the gorgeous cinematography. The script is fantastic and delivers unique and engaging characters while dishing out some great laughs and still sticking strong to its western sensibilities. The star making performance by Hailee Steinfeld, another great performance by Jeff Bridges and the phenomenal visual style from Joel and Ethan Coen make TRUE GRIT one of the best films of 2010.