True Grit (Joel & Ethan Coen, 2010)


Jeff Bridges (Rooster Cogburn), Hailee Steinfeld (Mattie Ross), Matt Damon (LaBoeuf), Josh Brolin (Tom Chaney). Screenplay by Joel and Ethan Coen. Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. Rating: 15. Running time: 110 minutes.

I think I can say, almost with certainty, that it is only the combination of the Coens and Jeff Bridges that could pull True Grit off. The Western may have been dead for years, but if there was anyone capable of breathing new life into an old genre then it was undoubtedly going to be these guys.

The Coens have, inevitably, completely revamped the script, adding all of their trademark idiosyncrasies and thus ensuring there’s humour even in the moments of dark drama. I have not seen John Wayne’s original, but I’m sure that like all traditional Westerns, it lacked the gory fetishisation of violence that the Coens dish out here. And moreover, it is clear by now that they undoubtedly have a love of barren landscapes (Fargo, No Country), and that theme returns, propelling them to the peaks of visual beauty. The cinematography may even be worthy of fighting off Black Swan for that most undervalued of Oscars.

If there’s an other award that True Grit is likely to win, it is Best Supporting Actress. Hailee Steinfeld is eleven years old, but she carries her weight alongside these granddads quite wonderfully, in precisely the same way her character manages to hold her own in a world dominated by guns, money and men. She has to deal with Bridges spouting out his only half-comprehensible lines with real venom (never mind with true grit), and whilst you can decipher the odd sneer, it is mainly all about the overpowering image: him on horseback firing at anything and everything, swigging whiskey and chasing a fugitive across the Wild West. The role was made for him.

The same, unfortunately, cannot be said for Matt Damon, who feels remarkably out of place. I am unsure if it’s the closer familiarity we have with his face, and the fact we associate it with such modern cinema, but something ensures it is all too easy to see past the artificial moustache. He might be perfect, but it is certainly tricky to appreciate him if he is.

And yet ultimately, the film as a whole works quite magnificently. It feels superbly coherent, so tightly woven as to convey a feel just right in its blending of action, dialogue, serious drama and a healthy dose of humour. This is a more than worthy addition to Joel and Ethan Coen’s impeccable oeuvre.

2 Responses to “True Grit (Joel & Ethan Coen, 2010)”

  1. I agree with most of your review and found True Grit a masterpiece when I saw it over the Christmas holidays at home. I have always been a fan of the Cohen Brothers’ work and this is one of their best. They have a knack for adaptations, both in the literary sense and re-working the original film.

    However your analysis of Matt Damon I found to be in disagreement with: it was probably the first film that he has appeared in where I didn’t just see ‘Matt Damon the actor’, but the character instead. I thought he portrayed LaBoeuf very well. Even the fake moustache added to the character “hoo-rah” feel.


  1. 1 Academy awards: what will win and what should. « jacob williamson | thoughts on film

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