It was cold in Columbus today and the Browns were getting their asses kicked by the Steelers, so it was a perfect day for a movie. I’d heard good things about True Grit, so that is what we saw — and the positive word-of-mouth turned out to be right on target.
Who would have thought that they would remake any John Wayne movie, much less True Grit? Have they remade Sands of Iwo Jima, or The Searchers, or for that matter The Sons of Katie Elder? Wayne was such a huge personality that it often was difficult to separate him from the story. The Coen Brothers, Joel and Ethan, took on that challenge, however, and the results are strikingly good. It is a beautifully photographed movie, with an excellent soundtrack and a stunning script. To me, the biggest star of the movie is the English language. Were the mud-spattered, tobacco-crusted residents of the old West really so articulate, with vocabularies as sweeping as the broad western vistas? Whether they were or weren’t, it is a pleasure to listen to the actors speak the lines and appreciate the expressive richness of the spoken word.
The acting is pretty good, too. Hailee Steinfeld, who plays precocious and iron-willed 14-year-old Mattie Ross, has a breakout performance. The remake succeeds, in part, because the focus of the film is on Mattie Ross and her quest to avenge her father, and it wouldn’t have worked if the actor playing Ross had not delivered. Steinfeld does, in spades. Jeff Bridges has by now perfected the grizzled, whiskey-soaked hero role, and he is terrific — funny, pathetic, maddening, and then awesomely heroic when the chips are down. Matt Damon is excellent as LaBoeuf, the talkative Texas Ranger. Watching Damon convincingly playing a man of the frontier, you realize that he is developing a portfolio of fine performances in a wide variety of roles. Damon is one of the most versatile actors of his generation, and this film gives him another chance to display his talents. There are a number of other great performances; my personal favorite was the beleaguered stable owner who comes to regret negotiating with the single-minded Mattie bent on properly settling her dead father’s affairs.
In modern Hollywood, westerns have been a neglected genre. True Grit shows that timeless westerns can still be made, and enjoyed.