Film Review

Best Western: True Grit Is a Satisfying Remake

We have a soft spot for the pigtailed girl with a killer instinct.

By Matthew Halverson December 22, 2010

Wanted: US marshal to help pigtailed farm girl avenge the murder of her father. Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld star in True Grit.

Directors Joel and Ethan Coen have an infuriating habit of holding the audience at arm’s length. You don’t go on a journey with classic Coen characters like the Dude or William H. Macy’s bumbling car salesman in Fargo so much as observe—bemusedly, uncomfortably—their odd little quirks and antisocial behavior, as if from behind a glass partition in a laboratory.

And that’s why True Grit, their satisfying retelling of the classic western that won John Wayne his only Oscar, is so… off-putting isn’t really the right word, but it’s the one a hardcore Coen fan would probably use. For once, you care about what happens to the brothers’ characters not because they deserve a comeuppance but because they’ve earned a happy ending.

And none more so than Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), the pigtailed farm girl who’s out to avenge the murder of her father. She’s so determined to track down his killer that she’ll sleep in a coffin if it’s the only bed available, and she won’t be satisfied until she’s hired the hard-drinking, shoot-first-and-interrogate-later U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to help her out. It’s not a spoiler to say that by the second act, there’s no doubt the film’s title refers more to her than Cogburn or LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), the Texas Ranger who joins the hunt.

Less nuanced actors would have played the marshal as a cloying father figure to Ross, but Bridges goes for something much more meaningful. Instead of softening as his headstrong employer earns her spurs, his Cogburn evolves from gruff and dismissive to gruff and deferential. He’s not about to adopt her and help braid her hair, but he’d no doubt ride into the brush with her again.

Of course, lest we forget, this is a revenge flick from the Coens. And, fittingly, Grit is just as brutal as No Country for Old Men or Miller’s Crossing. But it might go down as the “hooker with a heart of gold” in the brothers’ oeuvre, because even as the bodies pile up like cordwood, it’s impossible not to be moved by Ross’s killer instinct.

True Grit is in theaters Dec 22.

Filed under
Show Comments