Film Review – True Grit

True Grit (M)

Directed by: Joel and Ethan Coen

Starring: Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Hailee Steinfeld

Four stars

Review by: Julian Wright

I was torn about True Grit before I had even settled down with my box of popcorn to watch it. Westerns, like romantic comedies, are ranked very low on my must see list. You usually have to lasso me and have wild horses drag me to see any film from either genre. But I was desperate to see what a couple of my favourite film makers, Joel and Ethan Coen, had to offer. No Country For Old Men and Burn After Reading topped my best of lists in 2007 and 2008 respectively.

I was hopeful their storytelling skill would win me over, give me an appreciation for the genre and prompt me to go back and watch past Western classics. Working from existing material (True Grit is a novel written by Charles Portis and later made into a film in 1968 starring John Wayne), the Coens have created another impressive film. While it won’t trump Black Swan as my top film of 2011 so far, it would sit comfortably in my DVD collection.

After her father is killed by a criminal who no one is keen on tracking down and bringing to justice, 14-year-old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) takes it upon herself to do what the law enforcement won’t. First she must sort out her father’s burial and finances to make sure her family are not burdened, then she seeks help to track down her father’s killer Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin).

She is pointed in the direction of US Marshall Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), who is described as having true grit. But Mattie soon learns he is just a whisky swilling has-been. Nevertheless, he takes her money for the job and heads out to find Tom, with Mattie in tow. They are also accompanied, occasionally, by Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), who is keen to see Chaney brought back in handcuffs.

The Coens have created a script with a sense of wit and have peppered the dialogue with snappy one liners that adds some frisky fun to the sombre tale of revenge and redemption. Without the zingers, this film would have been much more difficult to enjoy. That is not to detract from the heart felt story and the performances that bring them to life.

Steinfeld, with her confidence and firm determination, is quite a find and slips nicely into a newly formed group of young actresses wowing critics and audiences for their portrayals of unusually well written roles. Chloe Moretz kicked ass in Kick Ass and Let Me In, Jennifer Lawrence took charge in Winter’s Bone and Natalie Portman tackled complexity in Black Swan. Not bad company for the newcomer.

While I probably won’t be hitting the Western section of my local video shop, my respect for the Coen brothers as film makers continues to grow. I cannot wait to see what genre they tackle and put their stamp on next.

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