Three and a half stars
Saddle up. The Coen Brothers are back in town. This time they are heading off to the old west for a re-make of ‘True Grit’, the John Wayne classic. The story involves a young girl named Mattie (Hailee Steinfield) as she is grieving for her murdered father. Well, maybe grieving isn’t quite the word. This girl has grit, and she wants revenge for her father’s murder. She wants to see Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) punished for her father’s murder. She wants him brought to justice. So, she hires Rooser Cogburn (Jeff Bridges, being well, Jeff Bridges) to track down this man Chaney and bring him to justice. Meanwhile she also meets, LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) who is also trying to track down Chaney because he murdered a senator in Texas. All in all, this Chaney fellow sounds like a bad dude. And in the old West, you get hanged if you mess around in the wrong way.
This film has all the quirkiness you expect from a Coen Brothers film. Hailee Steinfield is perfect as Mattie. She doesn’t flinch at all. She keeps looking straight ahead. An eye on the prize, as her mission is to bring Chaney to justice. Steinfield is this character. She is in every scene of this film. This is her first role. People mistake her for weak because she is a fourteen year old, though, throughout the film, she proves herself to be as strong willed as the other characters on the trail of Chaney. She is the quirky hero the Cohan Brothers love to have in their films.
Jeff Bridges plays a new version of the John Wayne role. When he looks at a dying man on the floor, he says “I can’t help you, son!” He rides his horse and he carries around that big gun, and aims it. You get the sense that the Coen Brothers are trying to adapt the novel as straight forward as possible. There are scenes in this movie that are wonderfully done. There are also scenes both crowd pleasing and not crowd pleasing. They try to keep the grittiness of the old west intact.
Bridges talks in a tone where he doesn’t flinch. He is on the mission alongside Mattie, trying to find Chaney. Matt Damon is alongside him. He does some fine acting as the less eccentric one on the trip. Mattie wants Chaney brought to justice badly. Chaney, though, isn’t that easy to come by. Bridges obviously goes full out, relishing his cowboy role.
You can tell the Coen Brothers are trying very hard to show their love for the western genre, like when the music plays when Mattie opens up her father’s processions and takes out an old western looking gun. Bridges is riding a horse, with Maddie, with the backdrop of a beautifully shot star studded background. The final act is beautifully shot. Some might think that the Coen Brothers are a little too quirky for the western genre. And in some ways, they are. They give a sense of humor to Bridges as he is the hired gunman on the trip. They try hard to keep the sense of a western alive. At times, it's hit or miss. Though, the Coen Brothers keep the story alive with their takes on the memorable characters.
I haven’t read the original novel, but one gets the sense that the Coen Brothers are truly adapting the novel. The feel of the film is that of a story that might have been written by an old western writer. I’m not sure it will win any Oscars, but I don’t think the Coen brothers made it for that reason. Old fashioned horses. Old fashioned guns. And an old fashioned law man and one determined teenage girl in the old west. The Coen brothers wanted to play cowboy. Shoot em up!