Filmmaking brothers Joel & Ethan Cohen take up the reigns of their latest film to put out their adaptation of the 1968 novel, True Grit, written by Charles Portis. The first film adapted from the novel shares the same title and stars western film vet John Wayne himself in the lead role of U.S. Marshall Rueben Cogburn. The Cohen Brothers have made it clear that their goal with this film was to make as close to the original story contained in the novel as possible. Steven Spielberg also shares producing duties on this project.
Jeff Bridges takes up the role of old, fat and usually drunk U.S. Marshall Rueben “Rooster” Cogburn who is chosen by 14-year old Mattie Ross (Hallie Steinfeld) to pursue and catch fugitive Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) who murdered her father. During her search for a suitable lawman to take up this task, she comes across Texas Ranger LaBoeuf who is in his own hunt for Chaney to obtain an award that is up for his capture.
After consistently being turned down to accompany Cogburn on his quest for Chaney, Mattie sets out after him only to find that he has made a deal with LaBoeuf to split the reward money. They reluctantly allow her to come with them as they search for her father’s killer. On
their adventure they encounter different trials & tribulations including other criminals, living off of the land and disagreements amongst themselves. All leading up to Mattie’s eventual encounter with the man that she wants brought to justice.
The best feature about this film would have to be the acting performance by that of Hallie Steinfeld. Only thirteen years old during shooting, she commands the audiences’ attention right from the beginning of the movie as she also serves as the story’s narrator. The delivery of her dialogue allows the audience to believe that she is older than she really is. This is exactly what her character, Mattie, needed to exude after the death of her father and apparent incompetence of her mother. Steinfeld is well deserved of the many supporting actress awards that she has been nominated for in this role. I look forward to seeing what other projects will come calling now that she has established herself as a young talent to watch out for.
The interaction between Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon’s characters was one of the aspects that brought humor to this film. Especially whenever either of them bantered back and forth with little Ms. Mattie Ross. Although hard to believe as a distinguished U.S. Marshall who has collared many a criminal is his career, Bridges seems to deliver Cogburn’s personality and “True Grit” dead on. His many tales about his life obviously nearly bored Mattie to death but it was funny to see how she was affected by his company despite being such a hard-fought focused person herself.
True Grit played out at a much slower pace than I had expected but as I have not seen the original film or read the novel that it was adapted from, I cannot make a fair comparison. Based on their vision for this film, I assume that this version is quite different than the one directed by Henry Hathaway back in 1969. Actress Kim Darby who played that version’s Mattie Ross was in her twenties at the time of shooting when she played a 14-year old. So I feel that that can contest to the maturity and certain level of skill that Steinfeld displayed at her young age.
Although a Western film in its fullest, True Grit does not contain a lot of action and shoot ‘em up showdowns. It’s more of a tale of a young girl and the bond she develops with the much older lawmen that she takes up company with on their plight to find a small time fugitive who took the life of a man whom she looked up to. Rugged at times with a few scenes not for little ones, it is more focused on character dialogue and exchange than about shooting bad guys. I give True Grit “3 rides into the sunset out of 5”.
“You must pay for everything in this world, one way and another. There is nothing free except the grace of God.”