I have wanted to see True Grit for such a long time. And this is not something I expected. I can count the Westerns I’ve liked on the fingers of less than one hand. I can count the Westerns I’ve enjoyed with John Wayne on even fewer fingers than that. But True Grit, Cohen Brothers style, has nothing to do with these Westerns of old. It took a familiar genre, breathed some 21st-century life in to it, and served it up, wringing the heart right out of your chest.
True Grit tells the tale of Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfield), a 14 year-old girl with nerves of steel. This girl lost her father to Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin). She sends her father’s body back to his wife and children while, alone, she sets out to find a gunfighter to seek relentless vengeance. The man she finds is the roughest, most alcohol sodden gunman of them all – Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges). In the wings is Texas lawman LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), whose relationship with the old man and the young girl is… awkward. The uneasy group goes after Lucky Ned Pepper and his gang, that includes Chaney, the killer with the mark under his left eye.
If Jeff Bridges had not won his awards for Crazy Heart last year then he should have won them for this in 2011. His portrayal of Rooster is sensational. Words may be mumbled, purposefully and meaningfully, but every sense is wrung from him through a look from his one eye or through the angle of his body. This booze-sodden Marshall is reminded of what constitutes a right in moral law because of Maddie.
Hailee Steinfield’s performance as Maddie pulls True Grit together. An avenging angel, if ever there was one. Playing Rooster and LaBoeuf against one another, placing herself in the utmost danger and isolation, crossing a fast flowing river up to her neck to prove that she, more than any gunman, has true grit. And winning through her bravery the respect of men such as Rooster and LaBeouf who put their own lives on the line to save hers.
Aside from the performances, which are fantastic, True Grit breathes life back into the Western thanks to cinematography, soundtrack, script and dialogue. The landscape stretches across the screen, the cold austerity of a winter scene. Greys, charcoals and browns dominate this landscape of winter and vengeance.
But it’s not all bleak. There are moments of humour along the way. We meet the old wizened hunter, encased in the fur of a bear. There is even humour in the situation in which Maddie finds herself. Her dedication is both impressive and ludicrous.
But when you watch True Grit, above all else you will fall for the characters of Maddie and Rooster Cogburn. These two people, one young, one old, will pull you in and keep you captive in their story until the very end by the strength of their personalities and courage.
True Grit is one of the finest films I have seen in the last 12 months. Without doubt, it features my favourite performance from Jeff Bridges. I also look forward to much more from Hailee Steinfield. This film’s relation to the original feels irrelevant and it doesn’t inspire much of a comparison. They belong to two different ages.
As an aside, two trailers have sent the nerves tingling up and down my spine over the last year. One was for The Social Network. The other was this trailer below.