“True Grit” – 2010. Dir. Joel and Ethan Coen

With Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld, Barry Pepper, with Matt Damon and Josh Brolin

“What do you plan to do?”

“I aim to kill you in a minute.”

I’ve been exposed to John Wayne more than most of my generation. My Dad is obsessed with John Wayne, and I grew up watching “The Searchers”, “Red River”, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence”, “Fort Apache”, “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon”, “The Shootist”, “Rio Grand” and “True Grit”. “True Grit” was the film Wayne won his sole Best Actor Oscar, creating much fuss since Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman were both nominated for “Midnight Cowboy”.

Anyone who considers “True Grit” a classic Wayne film is an idiot. The original “True Grit” is a bad film. Wayne is solid in it (though he did not deserve his Oscar for that film – it was a “career” Oscar). The supporting players of Glen Campbell who plays La Boeuf (Matt Damon in the current film) and Kim Darby who plays Mattie (played by Hailee Steifeld in the new film) are fucking terrible. So terrible they ruin the movie. The original is just a terrible, terrible film.

The new version of “True Grit” by Joel and Ethan Coen is their new masterpiece. Jeff Bridges plays our U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn who is an alcoholic, shoot first and ask questions later bad ass. New comer Hailee Steinfeld plays Mattie Ross, whose father is killed by ranch hand Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) and Mattie enlists Cogburn to track Chaney down, and bring him to justice.

Matt Damon plays Texas Ranger LaBoeuf who has been on Chaney’s trail all the way from Texas (the film takes plays in Arkansas). Together Mattie, LaBoeuf and Cogburn trek into apache territory to bring back Chaney who they believe is running with a gang of bandits lead by “Lucky” Ned Pepper (Barry Pepper).

The Coen Brothers deliver us another instant classic. They’ve flirted with making a western before, with their western noir films like “Raising Arizona”, “No Country for Old Men” and “Blood Simple”. This is a western that would have made John Ford and John Huston proud. This film stacks up against “Tombstone” and “Unforgiven” and is better than both of them, this film is great.

Aside from this seeming like a generic western, the Coen Brothers create this almost haunting “backwoods” western. It feels rough, looks rough – and isn’t very settling. It’s not a Hollywood western – it feels authentic.

Hailee Steinfeld is astounding in the film. She dominates the screen, and when she’s toe to toe with Bridges, or Damon, or Brolin – she holds her own, and holds her own well. She gives a command performance that needs to be recognized. She seems to be picking up steam in the Best Supporting Actress category, but she is the clear lead in the film. All the other characters are supporting to her because the story of “True Grit” is about Mattie, not Cogburn. She should really win Best Actress, but I doubt it’ll happen.

The role of Mattie Ross requires a performance of the highest caliber. She’s a strong and very independent girl. She is the heart and soul of the film. I almost think that this is a role that Ellen Page would have lobbied for really, really hard (if she did play the part of Mattie, it would make me hate such a perfect film).

Matt Damon gives a quality performance, and while it’s not his “best” performance it might just be my favorite. I like the fact that Damon is an A list star, and can pick and choose his roles – but he decided to take a backseat to Steinfeld and Bridges, that shows a plethora of character of Damon.

Barry Pepper portrays “Lucky” Ned Pepper, who Robert Duvall played in the original film. I’ve never liked when actors do impressions. Even when they play the same character in a franchise – notably DeNiro/Brando in the Godfather films, I think DeNiro made the role his own while showing homage to Brando – but I felt that Pepper does the best Robert Duvall impression I’ve ever seen, and he rocked the role.

Josh Brolin gives a standout backseat performance in this film, he’s such a remarkable actor. He gives a reserved and very surreal performance. He seems like a bumbling fool, but he hisses and sneers his lines of dialogue, its fun to watch. I can’t even believe that this is the same actor who played the “bad guy” in “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” which came out a couple of months ago. I don’t know if Brolin is a method actor, but whatever method he does use works, and works incredibly well.

As for Jeff Bridges…

Okay look, if you know me, or frequent my blog, you all know that I have a bias for Jeff Bridges. I think he’s an incredible actor and one of the finest actors ever. But, I don’t let my bias get in the way of my thought process. The Dude is not my favorite Bridges performance, and I don’t think he should have won for “Crazy Heart”, Colin Firth should have for “A Single Man”.

This year it seems like Firth is going to win for “The King’s Speech”. I think Firth gives another incredible performance, and he’s amazing in “The King’s Speech”. But if he wins this year, I think he and Bridges should exchange Oscars, because Jeff Bridges gives the performance of the year. He is truly awe inspiring.

This really was a risky role for Bridges to take. First of all, he was playing a part that was made iconic by John Wayne, and the second was that he just got done playing a bloated over the hill cowboy in “Crazy Heart”. Not for one second does Bad Blake bleed into Rooster Cogburn. We watch Cogburn go through drunken stupors, sober up and even save the day. Bridges makes this role his own, with no help from anyone. Bridges is the fucking MAN!

The climactic shoot out at the end of the film literally had me tense and on the edge of my seat. I knew what was going to happen, I’d seen the original film many times, I knew what the story was, where it went and how it went, but I can’t tell you this enough, this film had sunken into me from the opening narration.

Rating: 9.5/10

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Author: Frank Mengarelli

Everybody relax, Frank's here. After going to film school at Columbia College Chicago, Frank decided to underachieve with his vast knowledge of film into a career in civil service. Frank had a brief stint as a film blogger, and then he met the heterosexual love of his life, Nick Clement. The two instantly bonded over their love from everything to Terence Malick to THE EXPENDABLES films. Some of Frank's favorite filmmakers are Terence Malick, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Sylvester Stallone, Oliver Stone and Spike Lee. Some of his favorite films are THE TREE OF LIFE, STAR WARS (all of them), BAD LIEUTENANT, THE THING and ALL THAT JAZZ. Frank spends his free time with his dog Roger, collecting any Star Wars collectible he can find and trying to finish his pretentious, first person narrative novel(la), LARGE MEN IN SMALL CARS..

9 thoughts on ““True Grit” – 2010. Dir. Joel and Ethan Coen”

  1. I like how the thing they’ve been working towards wasn’t the climax, or at least didn’t feel like one.

    Matt Damon was so delightfully bitchy in this. I loved it.

  2. Great, great film with a great Bridges performance. I almost wish Firth had won for A Single Man last year so that Bridges could win for True Grit this year.

    With that said I’m not sure I’d put this ahead of Unforgiven, down the road maybe, but not just yet.

  3. I throughly enjoyed the movie, though I couldn’t really say Bridges was taking much of a risk taking the role, which btw he fit so well into even though at the same time he running back and forth shooting tron and this movie, but I sincerely doubt the movie going public even remembers the original film let alone has a great affinity for Wayne in it. Also really loved those weird characters that the Coens like to slip in like that guy in the bear pelt and that crazy one with the animal sounds.

  4. I enjoyed it but I’ve seen the original too many times to really enjoy this version for what it is. I also was disappointed that it doesn’t really feel like a Coen Bros movie except for in small doses, like the Bear Man scene, which I loved.

    Nice breakdown of how Jeff Bridges is awesome, he really does play Rooster extremely well without making you think of the drunkards of his previous films.

  5. You couldn’t be MORE wrong.

    I gave this film 3/5. It’s a good movie but it doesn’t significantly improve on the original.

    Also you say Kim Darby etc are terrible but do not explain why you think this – that is not reviewing, that is ranting.

    I thought Darby was better than Hailee because the force and pace of her talking impressed.

    1. I didn’t think there was much to explain about why Darby was terrible – because she was terrible. Her character is supposed to be stronger then Cogburn’s character – and also supposed to revive his “true grit”. I couldn’t imagine many people taking the original film very seriously, since it’s a pretty poor film. But, I’ve been wrong before.

      And no, Darby is not better then Steinfeld, in my opinion and the Academy’s (even though that doesn’t hold as much water with me as it does for some).

      1. I don’t think you’ll find many people agreeing with you in that the original performances were terrible, but that’s by the by. I think true grit belongs to the Mattie character, and I’m not sure about your interpretation that she’s supposed to ‘revive’ his grit – especially in the Coen one as we see him breaking down. Anyway all the the things I disagree with are contained in my own review.

        Nice debating with you.

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