True Grit (Paramount)

Directed by: Joel & Ethan Coen

The Coen Brothers play it fairly straight in this remake of the 1969 film that starred John Wayne, Glen Campbell and Kim Darby. It’s a Western based on the 1968 novel written by Charles Portis. Plot-wise, it relatively standard fare…14-year-old Mattie Ross (played here by newcomer Hailee Steinfeld) wants to avenge the death of her father, who was gunned down by hired hand Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin). Since the law won’t go after him (he escaped into “Indian territory”) Mattie hired a grizzled U.S. Marshall named Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to hunt him down.  Meanwhile Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) is also hunting Chaney for killing a State Senator.

There are the usual odd-couple disagreements between Mattie and Rooster and then LaBoeuf before the three of them finally get their showdown with Chaney.

What makes this version of True Grit so rewarding is the Coen Brothers’ script, the excellent casting and the beautiful cinematography.  The dialogue that the Coens have written for these characters is strangely archaic and immensely entertaining. Jeff Bridges is his old dependable self, Matt Damon manages not to spoil things and Steinfeld is totally believable as the precocious 14-year-old with a seemingly unlimited vocabulary.

Roger Deakins, who also shot No Country For Old Men, Jarhead, The Big Lebowski and O Brother, Where Art Thou? does some of his finest work here. The Old West has never looked better.

True Grit was nominated for 10 Academy Awards earlier this year, including Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actor and Supporting Actress. It won none. And while it may not be a classic Coen Brothers film…its right up there. This is just good, solid film making and it should stand up to repeated viewing on the DVD thanks to the quirky script and the fine performances.

Marty Duda