'True Grit' another gem from the Coen Bros.
As soon as the first trailer hit screens some months ago, it was obvious the Coen Brothers' adaptation of "True Grit" would be unlike the classic western that earned John Wayne a well-deserved Oscar.
At heart, it's the same story - an adaptation of Charles Portis's 1968 novel - but with a distinctly different feel. Joel and Ethan Coen ("Fargo") haven't remade the iconic 1969 film, but rather have interpreted the novel in their own inimitable way, and the results are spectacular.
Beautifully shot and outstandingly acted, "True Grit" is perfect material for the Coens' trademark brand of weirdness. Only in this case, it's considerably more subtle, blending seamlessly into its untamed surroundings - the western frontier, where anything comes and anything goes. It fits so well that the film comes across as a straight-shooting western.
"True Grit" is the revenge tale of Mattie Ross (newcomer Hailee Steinfeld), a quick-witted and sharp-tongued 14-year-old whose father was murdered by hired gun Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin, "No Country for Old Men").
Hardly content with the law's efforts, or lack thereof, in tracking Chaney, Mattie is determined to see him hang, one way or another. With unfettered persistence and a generous sum of money, she enlists the help of cantankerous, whiskey-swilling, trigger-happy U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges, "The Big Lebowski") - a man with true grit.
There's a provision, however, that Mattie be allowed to accompany Cogburn on his manhunt into Choctaw Indian territory, which grows even more complicated when cocky Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon, "The Informant!") enters the scene.
LaBoeuf is hunting Chaney for the slaying of a senator and is determined to see him hang in Texas, while Mattie would see otherwise. Cogburn couldn't care less how Chaney dies, just as long as the job is done and he gets his pay.
The three form a rocky alliance while pursuing their quarry through the wilderness, each brandishing their own unique form of grit and learning that revenge always comes at a cost.
Like most of the Coens' films, "True Grit" is accessible on numerous levels. The classic tale of retribution is engaging in itself, but the film is also rich in subtext, from its gorgeous cinematography to rich character texture.
As Cogburn, Bridges is "grit" defined, fitting the role like a well-worn glove - so well, in fact, that some of his dialogue almost gets lost in the bottle. But, as a master of his craft, Bridges manages to even make unintelligible grunts seem meaningful.
Wisely, Bridges and the Coens don't step on the toes of John Wayne's iconic performance. While both Cogburns share similar traits, each actor brings something different to his interpretation.
For Wayne, it's that self-assured swagger of a world-weary man who's seen it all. Bridges brings self-assurance, but his Cogburn proves it came with a price, that a lifetime worth of decisions - good and bad - can take a heavy toll.
Damon shines as LaBoeuf, playing the role with a foolhardy bravado, fueled by obligation to live up to the Texas Rangers' reputation - though not quite at any cost.
But it's Steinfeld as Mattie who nearly steals the show. As narrator and the primary protagonist, it's a role that shouldn't be taken lightly, and Steinfeld performs above and beyond the expectations of a child actor.
Her Oscar-worthy performance brings necessary depth to a character beyond her years - a mix of child-like stubbornness and adult determination.
It's an ensemble chemistry that works splendidly, each playing off the other for memorable dialogue, engrossing storytelling and a fine balance of humor and pathos.
The supporting cast is also superb, with Brolin expertly taking the backseat for an understated role as Chaney, along with a host of eccentrics that could only be born from the Coens' collectively bizarre minds - like the Bear Man (Ed Corbin) and an "all right" undertaker (Jarlath Conroy).
The Coen Brothers have an excellent reputation, and one that always precedes them no matter where they go - comedy, crime, western. It's a reputation well-earned and one that's solidified with each release.
And let's face it, revisiting a celebrated novel that spawned an even more celebrated film starring one of cinema's most beloved actors - well, that takes grit.
"True Grit," rated PG-13 for some intense sequences of western violence including disturbing images, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone. For show times, visit http://www.mountaintimes.com/movies.