Published: 10 February, 2011
by DAN CARRIER
Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
RATING: 5 Out Of 5 Stars
THIS film stinks – the waft of unwashed men who have spent months in the saddle comes creeping off the screen and fills your nose like a Bisto Kid sniffing a brown cloud of grimness. The Coen brothers have made one of their best, most atmospheric films to date – and that’s saying something. Lead man Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) just reeks of horse hair, leather saddles, whisky breath, sweat and gun oil.
The story goes like this: young woman Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfield) persuades tough old US Marshall Cogburn to help her track down and capture a man who murdered her father.
The pair trek through Native Indian country on their quest, with plenty of scrapes and the odd epiphany on the way.
We learn her father’s killer was a hired hand called Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) and that he ran away with two gold pieces. Mattie decides, as she collects her father’s body, to bring it home that she should put up a bounty to track down his killer. While Cogburn takes on the job, they are joined by Texas Ranger Labeouf (Matt Damon) who is also after Chaney, and wants to drag him back to Texas to face charges of murder.
The original True Grit was an adaptation of a 1968 book by Charles Portis and was made into a film starring John Wayne a year later. Usually I would groan at the thought of another remake, but not this time. The Western screen legend has had his boots and spurs comfortably filled. Bridges is simply superb, but perhaps even better is the performance of Steinfield as Ross, the 14-year-old out to hunt down the man who murdered her dad and get justice.
The Coen brothers have an eye for detail – it looks simply amazing as a trip into the Wild West – but it is their ear for dialogue that really stands out this time around.
Snappy exchanges are in each scene, paced in a believable manner.
Westerns have come in different packages, from the cheesy modern attempts such as Young Guns, which are basically action adventure flicks, to the Spaghetti offerings of Leone, which are marvellous to look at, have little dialogue and a handsome, rugged lead in Eastwood. Earlier offerings gave an idealised concept of America, with upstanding leads and were the archetypal Cowboy and Indian films.
True Grit falls into none of these categories. It’s a moving film, with super performances and even if you hate the idea of a Western, you’ll still find plenty in here to enjoy.