It was somewhat inevitable that the Coen Brothers would end up making a straight-up western, especially after modern-day effort No Country For Old Men. This time we get True Grit, a remake of a John Wayne classic but with an alcoholic Dude and a pipe-smokin’ Matt Damon.
Borrowing not much more than the core story from the original, the Coens introduce us to a familiar setting and a very simple plot but add their own spin on it, whether it is through touches of black comedy or dark undertones which few John Wayne films would have been comfortable with.
Newcomer Hailee Steinfeld is the little girl who drags Jeff Bridges' "meanest" US Marshall and Damon's unsure Texas Ranger across the desert to find her father's killer. Steinfeld is great and really steals the show: she is strong-willed, tough, determined, courageous and doesn't take no for an answer.
Bridges is always a safe bet and he does well here but his thick accent, grungy voice and constant mumbling, as much authenticity as it gives the character, makes the film a bit of a tough watch throughout. As for Matt Damon, he is surprisingly spot-on as a character who taunts and talks a great deal but really isn't half as tough or clever as he claims.
Visually, the film looks great and barring a couple of slightly jarring CGI shots, the Coens replicate the general atmosphere of a classic western perfectly. In terms of story, this is straight-forward revenge movie stuff but with a dark and deep underbelly which adds subtlety and a bittersweet feel to the proceedings.
This is a film about the heroism and evil men and women are capable of. True Grit is a fable, a tale about a trio of characters, all heroes, all flawed, who embark on a journey together where they reveal their true selves, what’s in their hearts. But as the bittersweet epilogue suggests, scars can last just as long as the heroics of one single key moment in time. The cruelty of life outweighing the cruelty of Man with time’s unsympathetic touch.
Though not quite as good overall as the likes of No Country For Old Men or Fargo, True Grit is a well-made, suspenseful ride and one of the finest westerns in a very long time. The DVD's subtitles, I suspect, will come in handy though…
What WAS The Dude saying???