Best Picture Nominee Three
I admit I haven’t seen the classic 1969 John Wayne version of True Grit but I think one of the strengths of remakes is that they stand on their own. This is one of those movies.
We saw this movie as a matinee at the Cobble Hill Cinema in Brooklyn on a whim. Boy am I glad we did! This film transported us to the days of the Wild West where 14 year-old Mattie Ross, played by the incredible Hailee Steinfeld, seeks out her father’s killer. Along the way, Mattie negotiates horse deals, hires a curmudgeon of a bounty hunter/U.S. Marshal named Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), butts heads with a rival Texas Ranger (Matt Damon), and confronts her father’s killer Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin).
It’s not so much what happens during the film that interests me the most—it’s a bit slow by today’s standards—but it is the acting and the cinematography that really stands out. I’ve never been that much into Westerns, but this one was presented in such a way that I couldn’t help but put myself in Mattie’s shoes and ask myself, would I be able to do what she did at her age? In her time period?
I was especially impressed with the acting by Ms. Steinfeld, who embodies the spunky and stubborn Mattie with just the right mixture of precociousness and vulnerability. Her eyes tell the whole story and for an actress who was just 13 years-old herself during shooting this is quite a feat! Jeff Bridges stands out in another memorable performance as does Matt Damon in one of his more unflattering roles but I think the true star is Ms. Steinfeld.
In terms of direction, I find the Coen Brothers to be somewhat inconsistent filmmakers. I love all of their early stuff but Ladykillers and Intollerable Cruelty? Really? Then, they surprise us with No Country for Old Men (2007) after the forgettable Burn After Reading (released in 2008 and filmed on location next to my old Brooklyn Heights apartment). I, for one, am happy about the return to the Coen Brothers’ glory days when they made The Hudsucker Proxy (1994), Fargo (1996), The Big Lebowski (1998), O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000), and The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001) all in a prolific 6-year period.
As someone who covers her eyes for egregious violence in films and on TV, I appreciated True Grit’s lack of superfluous bloodshed and the noticeably elevated tone from the shoot ’em up movies of the 50s. What the Coen Brothers do best is to create stylized stories that through their witty banter, sepia images, and caricatures allow the viewer insight into truths that can only be portrayed by fiction.
The sprawling vistas, impeccably recreated Western town, the lawlessness of it all—that’s what really rang true to me. My only complaint is the coda—I think we could have done without the peak into the future. That being said, this was a really enjoyable film with some standout performances.