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True Grit reviewed by Andrew Holt

The remake of “True Grit”, directed and written by the Coen Brothers, is . . . well . . . grittier than the original. Although many deem the 1969 romp featuring John Wayne as a classic, the 2010 version takes itself much more seriously and is a more believable film than the original, which undermined itself with celebrity casting: pop star Glenn Campbell playing Texas Ranger LaBoeuf. Needless to say, Matt Damon reprises the role with just a touch more skill.

Love the old Duke or not, Jeff Bridges’ portrayal of Rooster Cogburn, the loose triggered, whisky loving U.S Marshal, is spectacular as he produces a character possessing humor, rancor, complexity and sympathy. Although it is unlikely that Bridges will receive a second consecutive Oscar for a leading role, he certainly deserves the nomination bestowed upon him this morning. From the minute the camera slowly pans towards him in his initial scene, the viewer is drawn to this full character who is so vividly real, if not, disturbing.

The “grit” in this “True Grit” is also incorporated in the remolding of the other central character, Mattie Ross. Although the Kim Darby character in the 1969 version had her charm, little Mattie in the Coen’s version is not only charming in her dogged determination to not only keep up with her older male counterparts, but also, she outsmarts them.

Mattie, played by 14-year-old Hailee Steinfeld (Oscar nominated), is doggedly determined to find the man who unjustly killed her father and have him hanged. Sensing the indifference from the local authorities, Mattie employs the services of the dubious Cogburn after hearing that he is the most trigger happy of the available bounty hunters.

Yes, my friends. This film does not end with a still shot of Rooster jumping over a fence on his horse, an all-American smile plastered on the face of John Wayne as the credits role. This is a western. And although the plot is simple – chase the killer and then kill the killer – it is infused with all the quirky and despicable characters that make a Coen Brothers movie worth the ticket price. And even though it does not rank near the top of the Coen Brothers’ goriest projects, there’s still plenty of rotted out dead bodies and graphic violence to make it a legitimate Coen Brothers experience.

Matt Damon acquits himself nicely as the “By-the-Book” Mr. LaBoeuf as his character provides a nice dramatic tension to his blustery antithesis, Cogburn. The two are forced to team up as they are both after the same man, Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin); Chaney is also wanted for killing a Texas legislator. LeBoeuf must bring Chaney back alive in order to collect his reward and thus, not only do his and Cogburn’s personalities collide but also their motives. You get the feeling that Cogburn would rather see Chaney blown into 55 pieces than formally hung.

The bantering and macho dueling between the two provides humor, along with Damon doing a nice job drolly delivering his pretentious Latin references. For the most part, LeBoeuf provides comic relief and contrast. It is Bridges portrayal of Cogburn that brings the film its real depth.

Bridges’ performance could have been a cliché: drunken, outlaw marshal, turns soft for the gutty little girl and reinvents himself by the end of the movie. But pleasantly, Bridges and the Coens bring a much more believable character to the screen.

Cogburn, indeed, does develop some attachment for Mattie, but not outside the parameters of his rugged character. The viewer only perceives Cogburn’s sentiment in his actions which are never embellished by unnecessary sappy lines. Cogburn is whom he is: a rough and heartless bounty hunter who, also, surprisingly, has his own sense of integrity to which he is very true. It’s hard to figure him out and yet, by the end of the movie, the viewer realizes that this apparent drunk, trigger happy, impetuous loner, actually lives by a set of rules . . . and “they aint half bad.”

Sadly, as with many Coen Brothers films, I can’t give it a full-fledged “A” because of the usual reason: they don’t know how to end their movies. This one, they butchered at the very end . . . I’m talking about after the conclusion of the main narrative, which makes it all the more painful.

The last five minutes are confusing and completely unnecessary. The scenes involving Mattie 50 years after the chase are not needed and they present her as the stereotypical, hard old maid – somehow this is the natural evolution of a spunky, independent girl. The movie should have been wrapped up with a nice voice over and nothing more. Instead we’re watching a series of short scenes and wondering “Why?”

Thus, “True Grit” gets and A-: great acting, solid gritty western, abundant humor and drama, but chop off the last 5 minutes, please!


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