|Director:||Ethan Coen, Joel Coen|
Fourteen-year-old Mattie Ross’s (Hailee Steinfeld) father has been shot in cold blood by the coward Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), and she is determined to bring him to justice. Enlisting the help of a trigger-happy, drunken U.S. Marshal, Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), she sets out with him—over his objections—to hunt down Chaney. Her father’s blood demands that she pursue the criminal into Indian territory and find him before a Texas Ranger named LeBoeuf (Matt Damon) catches him and brings him back to Texas for the murder of another man.
A 14-year-old girl needs a man with “true grit” to help her bring in the fugitive who killed her father. That she settles on Rooster Cogburn—a one-eyed, booze-soaked, potbellied U.S. marshal on the downward curve of his career in law enforcement—is the glorious springboard for all versions of True Grit: the Charles Portis novel, the 1969 western that won an Oscar for John Wayne, and the 2010 Coen brothers adaptation. The Coens have some mighty shoes to fill in their version, and their choice for the eye-patch is Jeff Bridges, who growls his way through an understated take on Rooster. Matt Damon plays LaBoeuf, the Texas Ranger who joins the hunt; Josh Brolin is the scurvy killer; and Barry Pepper is the leader of the outlaw gang. Working as usual with cinematographer Roger Deakins, the Coens exhibit their clear, crisp view of western places, thrillingly creating new takes on recognizable vistas such as the frontier town, the snowy forest, and the isolated cabin at night. The Coens revel in the incredibly ornate dialogue, which allows their sardonic attitude to bleed into the material—young actress Hailee Steinfeld doesn’t seem at all fazed by the language, which may be a key reason she got the job as heroine Mattie Ross. While True Grit doesn’t have the heft of the best films in the Coens’ arsenal (there’s something very formal and even a wee bit academic about their stroll through this familiar text), they do create a pleasant sense of a good yarn, retold around the campfire for the umpteenth time. —Robert Horton