Director: Joel & Ethan Coen
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld, Matt Damon
True grit. They say that's what Rooster Cogburn's got and that's why Mattie Ross wants to hire him. Not that she really needs him, since she's got grit enough for two. I went into True Grit (not having read the book or seen the John Wayne version) thinking it would be all about Cogburn and was pleasantly surprised to find that it has a lot more to do Mattie herself, a spirited and thoroughly engaging heroine. A lot of great characters graced the big screen in 2010 and Mattie is definitely one of my favourites (and reminds me quite a bit of another 2010 favourite, Winter's Bone's Ree Dolly).
True Grit is the story of Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), who is determined to bring the man who murdered her father to justice. The man she's after is Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) and the man she hires to track him down is Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), a US Marshal. Cogburn is reluctant to take the assignment, especially once he learns that Mattie intends to accompany him, but ultimately agrees (though he does attempt to leave her behind). The two are joined by Taxas Ranger LeBoeuf (Matt Damon), who is after Chaney for the murder of senator, but it's an uneasy partnership in all respects. Cogburn and LeBoeuf don't get along and both assume that Mattie will be more of a nuissance than a help. Eventually LeBoeuf splits, but since he's still intent on finding Chaney (and getting a handsome reward for bringing him back to Texas), the three will cross paths again later.
Cogburn and Mattie proceed further into Choctaw territory without the Ranger, eventually coming to an isolated shack where they find a pair of outlaws who have information on Chaney, specifically that he's fallen in with "Lucky" Ned Pepper (Barry Pepper). Shortly after this revelation, both the outlaws end up dead (one stabs the other, prompting Cogburn to shoot him) and Cogburn and Mattie lay in wait for Pepper to return. Unfortunately, LeBoeuf shows up first and almost ends up dead after entering into an ill-advised stand off with the gang. Cogburn comes to his rescue but Pepper and Chaney get away and soon the still unstable alliance between Cogburn, Mattie and LeBoeuf disintegrates. Things just get worse from there as Mattie falls into Chaney's hands, making it necessary for the frequently drunk Cogburn to pull it together enough to get her back to safety.
I had pretty high hopes for True Grit simply because of the Coens and the cast they'd assembled and, I have to say, this film totally exceeded my expectations. In many ways it's very unlike the Coens' other outings (which leads me to believe that it's a fairly faithful adaptation of the novel) and yet it still retains that certain Coen charm. This is a very lovingly rendered film and gorgeously photographed by frequent Coen collaborator Roger Deakins. It's hard to believe that despite several nominations Deakins has never won a Oscar, but maybe this is his year. That opening shot of snow falling on the body of Mattie's father, the scene illuminated by the light from an open door, is particularly, achingly beautiful and so are the series of shots that make up Cogburn's desperate attempt to save Mattie's life. The setting may be the rough and tumble wild west, but True Grit is definitely one of the prettiest looking movies of the season.
The acting, of course, is also stellar. Bridges is pitch perfect as Cogburn, his surliness a nice balance to Steinfeld's pluckiness, and Damon makes for a nice third to round out the core group as the loquacious and too earnest by half LeBoeuf. Brolin's role is fairly small but his performance is memorable as the outlaw who turns out to be more goofy than terrifying (early in the film LeBoeuf insists that Chaney is a wiley one, prompting Mattie to declare that she always found him rather dumb. Gotta give it to Mattie on this one). However, the film well and truly belongs to Steinfeld, who demonstrates a skill well beyond her years. Her performance is absolutely delightful (I especially enjoyed Mattie's naive but frequent belief that outlaws can be swayed by her promise help them get good legal advice) and makes Mattie a force to be reckoned with. True grit? She's got it.
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