Authentic and Worthy
Joel and Ethan Coen directed True Grit, which they adapted themselves from the novel by Charles Portis. And just as in No Country for Old Men, a contemporary Western of sorts, the Coen brothers totally immerse themselves and their cast into this period piece. Every syllable, set prop, and costume stitch is spot-on authentic. This is the story of Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), a fourteen-year-old farm-girl determined to bring the man -- Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) -- who wrongfully murdered her father to justice. She won’t stop till he is hanged.
A tad prim and proper, though, Mattie realizes she can’t accomplish her mission alone, so she sets out to find the perfect bounty hunter. By reputation, she stumbles across Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), a U.S. marshal whose drunken, slothful, and ruffian ways don’t initially bode well for Mattie. But the more she learns of his take-no-prisoners approach, the more resolute she becomes on procuring his services. Their introduction goes a bit awry, and the negotiation doesn’t prove any better after Mattie insists she tag along. Nonetheless, for the right price, Cogburn relents, and soon, they find themselves deep into the Indian Nations in search of Tom Chaney, who has teamed up with Lucky Ned Pepper (Barry Pepper) and his outlaw gang. Also, along the way, they encounter and intermittently join forces with Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), yet another bounty hunter on Chaney’s trail for having murdered a senator back in Texas. Together, they constitute the unlikeliest posse, but will they get their man?
Nominated for ten Academy Awards, including one for Best Picture, True Grit, as it turns out, deserves each and every nod. Fresh from his win for Best Actor last year (Crazy Heart), Jeff Bridges delivers yet another jaw-dropping, compelling performance. Tender yet brutal, deadly serious yet comical, Rooster is the confounding composite of a man who will shoot a horse driven to its knees in the head and walk the rest of the way in search of help, cradling Mattie like a baby. Hailee Steinfeld is nothing short of breathtaking as the incredibly precocious Mattie Ross, so much so that her performance rivals those of Keisha Castle-Hughes in Whale Rider and Anna Paquin in The Piano. And Matt Damon rounds the cast out beautifully with the pitch-perfect degree of comic relief.
True Grit, though much superior, is somewhat reminiscent of 1993’s Tombstone in that it embodies a rare milieu of equal parts hyper-violence and humor. It’s as though, when Mattie is searching for her bounty hunter, you can almost hear Rooster Cogburn rumble, “I’m your huckleberry.”
(Released by Paramount Pictures and rated “PG-13” for some intense sequences of western violence including disturbing images.)