Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
Starring Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Hailee Steinfeld, Josh Brolin
On the one hand, “True Grit,” the Coen brothers’ adaptation of Charles Portis’ 1968 novel, feels more commercial than many of their past projects, evidenced especially by the regular swells of rousing, sentimental music.
On the other hand, there’s no question that this Western, set in the 1870s, marches to its own beat.
Newcomer Hailee Steinfeld stars as Mattie Ross, a young girl who hires a trigger-happy, alcoholic U.S. Marshal by the name of Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to hunt down the man (Josh Brolin) who killed her father. Mattie, who strides through the world with sharp-tongued wit and preternatural determination, embeds herself in Cogburn’s one-man posse, much to his annoyance. Over time, though, her steeliness wins him over and even stirs up his paternal instincts.
Also along for the ride is a Texas Ranger named LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), a chatty third wheel who’s been hunting the same outlaw.
As the trio ventures through Indian territory, they’re met with gunfights and bloodshed, yes, but the Coen brothers have unleashed much worse violence than this. This journey is comprised less of violence and more of comedic banter.
Some of the banter is adversarial — at any given point, at least two of the three companions are at odds — some of it is absurdist drivel, and some of it is tinged with affection.
“True Grit” is ultimately hobbled by an overall uneven quality that you acclimate to but never quite accept.
The ending, also, feels weirdly rushed. Still, the cinematography is grand and the performances spirited.
Bridges, in perfect whiskered and unkempt form, throws himself into the role of Cogburn, marble mouth and all, and Steinfeld is a clear Hollywood up-and-comer.
It may not be the best movie from the Coen brothers, but even a so-so Coen brothers film makes for rewarding entertainment.
• The 1969 film adaptation of “True Grit” starred John Wayne (Rooster Cogburn), Glen Campbell (La Boeuf), Kim Darby (Mattie Ross), Robert Duvall and Dennis Hopper.
• Hailee Steinfeld showed up at her final audition dressed in a costume made from a burlap skirt and Salvation Army clothes.