By Jarrett Mellenbruch
Just go ahead and give Mattie Ross whatever it is she demands. Trying to bargain with this 14 year old , played by Hailee Steinfeld, will eventually leave you weakened and bewildered. Her relentless pursuit of justice for the murder of her father calls upon her vast reserve of cunning, quick wits, and masterful tongue.
Cast opposite the craggy and weathered drunkard U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn, masterfully played by Jeff Bridges, she holds up her part and then some in this perfect balance between a game innocent and an extremely experienced, blunt yet perceptive hired gun.
Thanks to Hailee Steinfeld, the young actress who plays Mattie, women viewers who venture out to see one western every decade would do well to make True Grit their choice for the Teens. This may be the one movie where a mother/daughter night out to see a shoot-em-up may rival the father/son crowd. That’s not to say the men should stay away, only that there is something for everyone here, including the strong central heroine.
Matt Damon, Barry Pepper, and Josh Brolin nicely round out the cast and offer some extra color and comedic moments. Damon’s LaBoeuf is the cowboy nerd who rides the fine line between charming and annoying, and he rides it well. Pepper plays bad guy Ned Pepper, who probably is the grittiest part of the whole movie. And Josh Brolin is the seemingly simpleminded crook who killed Mattie’s father and kicked off this whole goose chase.
The signature Coen brothers moments are here but not as overt as in some of their other movies, perhaps due to the fact that this is a genre film. A few nicely underplayed moments of graphic violence and the appearance of “the Bear Man” will keep most Coen brothers’ fans happy enough but maybe wanting a little more.
With its played-down shock value, True Grit reaches a broader audience, although perhaps at the expense of real fans. Great acting, styling, locations and especially dialogue keep True Grit moving along and make it an excellent reinterpretation of the original, but aren’t enough to make it a Coen brothers tour-de-force. Go, watch, enjoy, and if you can time it right, leave before the last eight minutes or so of the movie, which managed to knock the movie down a notch in my book.