True Grit: Movie Review
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John Wayne won the Academy Award for his portrayal of rough-and-tough U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn in the 1969 film, True Grit. The legendary actor owned the role until this week, as Oscar-winning directors Ethan and Joel Coen (No Country for Old Men, Fargo) take their shot at a remake of the popular Western.
Based more on the original novel by Charles Portis than the John Wayne film, the Coen brothers' True Grit hits the target, but it’s no bulls-eye. The modern take on the old Western is well acted by the likes of Oscar winner Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart), Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper, and introduces Hailee Steinfeld as the strong-willed farm girl Mattie Ross. True Grit is surprisingly funny and engaging, but it comes just short of being the cinematic achievement as some critics would argue.
The Movie in a Minute
After her father is gunned down by Tom Chaney, 14-year-old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) determines to catch the coward and bring him to justice. To capture her father's killer, Mattie hires a tough lawman with “true grit” known as Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges). Just as stubborn as Mattie, Rooster initially resists her offer, preferring to remain in his drunken, slothful state. His tune changes soon thereafter and the two, along with a Texas Ranger named La Boeuf (Matt Damon), begin their hunt of Chaney, one that tests the will and “grit” of each trekker.
What Works -- and Doesn't -- in True Grit
True Grit is undoubtedly the best Western this generation, who missed out on John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, and James Stewart movies, has seen in a while. Following the plotline of Portis’ story, filmmaking brothers Ethan and Joel Coen wrote a worthy screenplay for this retelling of Mattie Ross and Rooster Cogburn’s hunt for the coward who killed her father. One of the film’s strengths is its ability to create a moving scene and aleviate the drama unfolding in Mattie’s life with a little comedy. Western fans will get the usual gunfights, panoramic views of untouched high country, and talks around the campfire in the middle of nowhere – as they should, but the humor in True Grit is truly a refreshing surprise. The movie's weakness is in the direction, specifically the slow pace of the film. At just under two hours, it is not a terribly long movie, but, at points, it does seem to drag.
Jeff Bridges fills the shoes of Rooster Cogburn quite nicely. Though he is not as exceptional in the role as John Wayne, Bridges’ manner and tone fit the break-the-rules-to-get-the-bad-guy lawman Cogburn. His on-screen co-horts do not disappoint either. Matt Damon puts in a believable performance as Texas Ranger LaBoeuf and newcomer Hailee Steinfeld shines as Mattie Ross (her career is just beginning). Though the other two Hollywood notables in the film don’t appear on screen until near the end, their portrayals of murderer Tom Chaney and outlaw “Lucky” Ned Pepper (played by Josh Brolin and Barry Pepper, respectively) are marvelous. Barry Pepper, in particular, turns in a memorable performance, though his on-screen time is minimal.
Faith plays a part in the Coen brothers’ film. In fact, the first seconds of True Grit feature a version of the following scripture verse:
The narrator goes on to say, “You pay for everything in this world. There is nothing free, except the grace of God”. Portions of Psalms 23 are spoken and the last song heard in the film (and used during the credits) is “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms”, a hymn about resting in God’s peace and protection. In a movie world that isn’t keen on having religion a focus in film, True Grit stands as one that doesn’t back down from Christianity, keeping in step with the faith foundation many early Americans had in that time.
Parents should know that this is not a kid-friendly film. Rated PG-13 for some intense sequences of western violence, including disturbing images, True Grit doesn’t hold back on bloodshed. Expect to see hangings, up-close shootings, and dis-finger-ment. Fortunately, the violence isn’t too over the top to push it to Rated R status, which could have easily happened. Foul language also is a negative in True Grit. Profanity (using God’s name in vain) and obscenities are used.
In the End
Simply put, True Grit is a really good movie. Its slow pace weakens the film’s overall appeal, but its dialogue and character portrayal help make up the difference.
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