The Coen Brothers have long since established themselves as great filmmakers and are sure to go down in the pantheon of greats. They have made a career of crafting quirky, eccentric, bizarre, and entertaining films from the likes of Oscar winners No Country for Old Men and Fargo to cult favorites The Big Lebowski and O Brother, Where Art Thou?. It says something when films like The Ladykillers and Intolerable Cruelty are considered their bad ones. Yes, they are somewhat lacking, but they are still more than watchable. That brings us to their take on True Grit, their take on one of those genre classics I have yet to see (and will someday rectify).
True Grit may just be the Brothers' most straightforward film yet. It has a lot of humor to it, but it is not what you would call quirky or eccentric. True Grit is an amazing exercise in straight genre film making. This is a movie that transports the viewer back to the Old West with a great sense of authenticity. It is a movie that seems to have been made with such ease as to make you wonder why all movies are not made this well.
I do not think that True Grit speaks to any great truth or reveals anything greater about the human condition. What I do find the film to say is just a great story of people, heart, and determination. It is told with perfect style, it moves with style and grace. It is a film of pure entertainment. There is definitely something to be said for the Coens ability to make this look so effortless.
The story centers on Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), a fourteen year old girl whose father has been murdered in cold blood. She arrives in town to collect his things and with a single-minded determination to bring the killer, Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin). The problem is that he has has fled to the outer territories and the local law do not see him as much of a priority. This leads Mattie to Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Brides), a US Marshal who has been around the block and is takes up residence in the back of a Chinese grocery.
Mattie manages to hire him to go after Chaney. The two set out and are joined by Texas Ranger LaBeouf (Matt Damon), who also happens to be hunting Chaney. The three head out into the forest in search of the outlaw. The road is fraught with danger, conflict, and humor. It is a fantastic adventure, hands down.
The story told is simple enough, girl wants revenge for her father's murder, enlists some ornery help and heads out to see it through. What takes this to the next level and what makes me want to go down that trail again is the writing and the performances. Simply put, they are fantastic.
With a cast that includes Bridges, Damon, and Brolin, you would assume they would dominate the cast. You would be wrong. Hailee Steinfeld, in her first major role, is the most dominant personality onscreen. Her Mattie Ross refuses to be ignored. She may be young, but she doesn't allow herself to be talked down to, stands up for what she believes to be right and will not be ignored. Steinfeld brings a lot of confidence and attitude to the role delivering a memorable performance.
Jeff Bridges is also fantastic as the ornery Rooster Cogburn. There is something about the grit (sic) that he brings. It is a memorable character that strikes me as something that John Wayne could not have done. I know, I know, I have never actually seen a complete Wayne movie, but from the bits I have seen, it looks like Bridges has taken a rather different approach.
True Grit is a success on all fronts, from the solid screenplay to the great performances, from the direction to Roger Deakins wonderful cinematography, this is pure genre film making. There is no winking and nodding at the camera, this is something of a love letter to the art of film making. Is it the Coen's best? Probably not, but that is not going to stop me from enjoying the pure entertainment of it all. Thrills, drama, laughs, heart, adventure, this packs it all in a perfectly paced package.