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True Grit
Genre Western
 
Review:

Is it the reflection in a cowboy's boot? Is it the whinnying of a horse ready to bolt? Is it the glint in a gun fighter's eye before a showdown? True grit is what most Westerns are built on with tough, leather-faced hard men swaggering around town like they've just shot the Sheriff. Thing is... it's often difficult to spot the difference between a bad and good guy. This is the Wild West and this is the remake of John Wayne's swan song... it's called True Grit.

The Coen brothers seem intent on resurrecting the Western after a steadying decline in interest since Sergio Leone sparked the influential "Spaghetti" Western culture of cowboy movies in the seventies. These films have shaped directors as prolific as Quentin Tarantino, who used aspects of Leone's trademark film-making formula in the making of Inglourious Basterds. The spirit of the Western is still alive in Hollywood... and the Coen brothers have made sure that its legacy continues with True Grit, an authentic Western embodying some of the thrill and humour of living on the fringe of society.

The genre mix is ideal for them... making it the perfect movie to dabble with, after having won an Oscar for No Country for Old Men, another novel adaptation and uncharacteristic genre entry. The Coen brothers have naturally been drawn towards comedy, but have matured to focus on more dramatic elements in their films. True Grit is a fine balance of the two... providing the light relief of intermittent comedy and the hard-hitting reality of living life as a hired gun.

Mattie Ross (Steinfeld) is a young woman with a sharp mind and an even sharper tongue. When her father is murdered, she endeavors to seek street justice and exact revenge. She enlists the help of Rooster Cogburn (Bridges), a tough U.S. Marshall with a knack for handling suspects (and verdicts) out of court. The young lady insists that she accompany the Marshall as he tracks down her father's killer, in the hopes of delivering the death note personally.

True Grit is Jeff Bridges... who won Best Actor for a similar style of performance in Crazy Heart. That character was a good platform for his role in True Grit, playing a talented old cowboy with a drinking problem, whose best is yet to come. Rooster Cogburn and True Grit belonged to John Wayne, but now there's a new Marshall in town. Bridges gives the one-eyed tough man real heart and clout, defining true grit and the essence of living like a real cowboy between pay days and drinking binges.

However, Bridges has stiff competition in the form of a young Hailee Steinfeld, who delivers a spirited performance as Mattie Ross. Her gutzpah, oomph and willful character is perfectly portrayed by Steinfeld - giving the Marshall a run for his money with her strong attitude and stubborn determination. She even outplays an experienced contender like Matt Damon, despite a solid yet comical performance as LaBoeuf, and fits in neatly under Cogburn's wing in a sort of father-son relationship.

Rooster Cogburn may be today's equivalent of Judge Dredd, but he brings a vulnerability to the performance that creates a much more complex lead and old style hero. The realness of the character is propagated by the authenticity of the Western sets and the use of language as set forth by Joel and Ethan Coen. The simple story is laced together so perfectly that it's difficult not to get pulled in by the blend of good humour and short bursts of violent action.

Punishment and retribution are the watchwords for True Grit. It's not as beautiful or poetic as The Assassination of Jesse James, but still captures a slice of the times with all the little background details. At the heart of the film are the terrific performances, which carry the story with great gusto as our adventurers traverse the open plains and track down their man. True Grit is one of those autonomous remakes. There are the occasional tributes with a tip of the hat to John Wayne and the original, but it's been made with great passion and a real sense of ownership - something that's difficult to substitute.

The bottom line: Authentic.

 

 

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