Directors: Ethan Coen and Joel Coen
Screenwriters: Ethan Coen and Joel Coen adapted from the eponymous novel by Charles Portis
Runtime: 110 mins.
Australian release date: 20 January 2011
The Coen Brothers and Scott Rudin’s adaptation of Charles Portis’s novel True Grit sticks closer to the original dialogue and grittiness of the Wild West than its predecessor, directed by Henry Hathaway in 1969. The storyline is the same, but the characters in the Coen’s film have a lot more ‘grit’ using the long-winded, rather formal, language of the period.
We go on a trek into the Indian Nation with Mattie (Hailee Steinfeld) a 14-year-old girl who has hired a US Marshall, Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) and another lawman LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), to avenge her father’s killer Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin). This is hostile territory and Roger Deakin’s cinematography leaves us in no doubt that the terrain is as dangerous as what lays ahead.
Unlike John Wayne, who played the original Rooster complete with hairpiece and corset, Bridges plays it raw. You can almost get a whiff of his body odour, which would smell like a stale bar after a big night. And there ain’t no fancy garments here as he lets his gut hang out, and in a very telling scene tells Mattie to cut down a man swinging from a branch as he is, ‘too fat and old to do it…’
Before they set off, Mattie has to make a deal with a horse trader to generate some funds to pay for the trip and to send back home to her mother and siblings. This tough girl, who is referred to as plain, pulls no punches as she outsmarts the crooked trader by employing his own logic and getting what she wants.
Mattie is determined to make her father’s murderer pay for his mistake and is racing against time to get Chaney, the killer, brought to justice as, according to one of the proverbs in the Bible, ‘the wicked flee when no man pursueth…’ Mattie has no choice but to trust her instincts and yet we are reminded that she is still a child when sheds real tears for her dying horse.
Like John Wayne, Bridges delivers an Oscar-worthy performance. He is utterly believable as the cowboy who lives and dies by the bottle and the gun. Steinfeld is a young actor to watch out for, cutting her teeth in a role that shows a real maturity. Damon plays the perfect Texas Ranger who does everything by the book and Josh Brolin’s role as the unprincipled killer Chaney completes a fine cast. This is a different direction for the Coen’s as it is delivered straight down the line. In fact, True Grit has the potential to walk straight down the red carpet for an Oscar nomination.