True Grit (9/10)
by Tony Medley
Run time 110 minutes.
OK for children.
Although John Wayne won an
Oscar® for his portrayal of Rooster Cogburn in the 1969 film, the
filmmakers claim that this movie is based much more on the book written
by Charles Portis that appeared in serial form in The Saturday
Evening Post in 1968 than it is on Wayne’s film (directed by Henry
Having seen both films, I
couldn’t determine that much difference in the script or story line
because they are both virtually identical. It’s almost as if the
filmmakers were using the first film as an outline to follow. The only
differences, however, are substantial. This True Grit is much
more comedic, the performances are better, the script is better, and so
is the direction. The only difference that didn’t measure up was the
ending, which is much different, and that’s to the film’s detriment.
14-year-old Mattie Ross (Hailee
Steinfeld) hires drunken Rooster Cogbrun (Jeff Bridges) to track down
and capture Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), the killer of her father. Making
the contract more difficult for Rooster she makes it a term of the deal
that she must accompany him. On their way, they come across LaBoeuf
(Matt Damon), a Texas Ranger who is also trying to find Chaney.
Written and directed by Joel
and Ethan Coen, this has a lot of comedic touches. One of the charms of
the movie is that they disdain the use of contractions, á la Damon
Runyon. This manner of speaking adds a lot to the enjoyment of the film.
Jeff Bridges has really come
into his own as an actor. After winning the Oscar® for Crazy Heart,
he should be near the top of the list of nominees for this
performance. Joining him is rookie Steinfeld, who was 12 when the movie
was shot. Her performance, essential to the film, is virtually flawless.
Much as I admire John Wayne, Bridges’ and Steinfeld’s performances are
much more entertaining than Wayne’s and Kim Darby’s in 1969.
However, the advertising that
lists Josh Brolin as the third lead with his name above the title,
borders on fraud. I didn’t count them, but I doubt if Brolin is onscreen
for more than three minutes, all in the last half hour. His character,
the pursued Chaney, is a minor one at best, played by Jeff Corey, a
character actor of not nearly the status of the Oscar®-nominated Brolin,
in the 1969 version.
Another criticism arises as a
result of the amalgamation of Rooster, Mattie, and LaBouef that leads to
a stunning production gaffe, one that shouldn’t occur in any film, much
less one of this quality. Rooster and LaBoeuf try to leave Mattie
behind, but she follows them and finds they have crossed a river into
the wilderness of Indian Territory. Having no way across, she plunges in
the river on her horse and they swim across. When she gets out of the
river on the other side, she immediately confronts them. Despite just
having crawled out of a raging river, in this scene she is completely
and totally dry. If this weren’t such a terrific movie, this scene would
be laughable. Because the movie is so good, it’s just puzzling how this
could have been allowed to happen. Although, to be fair, Hathaway made
the same mistake in his version 41 years ago.
Kudos to cinematographer Roger
Deakins and production designer Jess Gonchor, who created a wonderfully
atmospheric environment for Rooster and Mattie to traverse in their
pursuit of Chaney through Indian Territory. Although in 1878, the year
in which the film takes place, that would have been the future state of
Oklahoma, they wanted to show the coldness of the winter in which they
were traveling, so most of the exterior locations were shot in New
Despite the minor annoyances
mentioned, this is one of the best of the year.