Oscar Movie Month: "True Grit" Review

Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures

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Rating: PG-13
Length: 110 minutes
Release Date: December 22, 2010
Directed by: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Genre: Adventure / Drama / Western

The Western movie genre has been largely ignored over the past several decades, but the 2010 remake of the classic John Wayne film "True Grit" has brought Westerns back into style. The story follows 14-year-old Mattie Ross as she hires a tough U.S. marshal to help her track down the man who killed her father. The strong-willed girl has her own grit tested when she comes face to face with her father's killer. Offering witty dialogue and a standout cast, "True Grit" is an entertaining film with a nostalgic atmosphere that is worth viewing.

When a man is killed by a drunken hired hand, his daughter Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) travels to the town to identify his body. Realizing that the killer Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) would not be convicted of his crime, the courageous Mattie decides to take matters into her own hands. She asks for the meanest, toughest U.S. marshal around and is directed to Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), an intimidating man who wants nothing to do with Mattie's quest. Despite her offer to pay him and her incessant requests, Cogburn continues to decline her offer.

Cogburn finally agrees to go after Chaney, but he leaves for the Indian Nations in the morning without her despite his promise to let her tag along. With her trusty pony Little Blackie, Mattie soon catches up to Cogburn and his companion LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), a Texas ranger wishing to take down Chaney for his own motives. Impressed by her courage and tenacity, Cogburn agrees to let her stay. The small group continues the search for Chaney, dealing with several spats and dangerous situations along the way. Cogburn and LaBoeuf eventually give up the mission and leave Mattie to continue searching on her own. When she discovers Chaney and is taken hostage, she must rely on her new friends to escape and avenge her father's death.

The Coen brothers do a fantastic job directing this movie by creating a believable world, likable characters and engaging dialogue. The plot itself is raw and simplistic, and the film uses a more classic storytelling approach reminiscent of old Westerns, one free of irony and unnecessary complexities. This, combined with beautiful cinematography featuring nostalgic, faded colors, results in a unique type of film that is rare for its time.

Concerning the source material, the 2010 rendition of "True Grit" is spot on. Although the John Wayne version is held as a classic, it drifts further from the book's storyline. The newer movie is true to its origins, making it an entirely different film with a unique plot. Even fans who don't enjoy remakes are sure to enjoy "True Grit" due to its creativity as well as the way it re-imagines the classic film.

The sets and filming locations leave nothing to be desired. The wilderness is beautifully captured, and every town scene is built with incredible detail. It is clear that the production team went to great lengths to ensure the costumes and sets were historically accurate, drawing viewers into a place and time long ago.

Although the story and dialogue keep viewers glued to their seats, it is the acting that truly brings this film to life. Jeff Bridges immerses himself into the role of Rooster Cogburn, making the character his own. Fans may be tempted to compare Bridges' Rooster with Wayne's Rooster, and the result is surprising. If anything, Jeff Bridges portrays the rough, gritty character even more accurately. Hailee Steinfeld also delivers an impressive performance in her breakout role. She beautifully portrays every emotion and creates a believable character that leaves viewers asking for more. As always, Matt Damon portrays his character with a spot-on performance, and Josh Brolin holds his own as the notorious Chaney. This varied, unexpected cast comes together in an incredible way to create an unforgettable movie.

Despite its wide appeal, "True Grit" does have a few shortcomings. The turns and plot twists are somewhat predictable, and the straightforward storytelling borders on tedious. Although the dialogue is one of the strong points of this film, the long sequences of character interaction take the place of scenes that could speak for themselves or provide an extra dose of action. Still, the film is thoroughly entertaining for new viewers and fans of the original film.

Although the simple storytelling and character-driven plot may not suit everyone's tastes, the film is true to its roots. Western aficionados are sure to come away satisfied, and every viewer can appreciate this film's strong cast and fascinating characters. Although the film's superiority over the original "True Grit" is debatable, no one can deny the movie's value in the realm of modern-day Westerns.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5