“TRUE GRIT” Revenge, Rangers and Rooster Cogburn

It’s all about Jeff Bridges. The man takes a role defined by John Wayne and nestles in there like it’s a comfy old armchair. Reuben ‘Rooster’ Cogburn, a US Marshall […]

'True Grit' goes against the grain of the typical Western

It’s all about Jeff Bridges.

The man takes a role defined by John Wayne and nestles in there like it’s a comfy old armchair.

Reuben ‘Rooster’ Cogburn, a US Marshall and certified drunkard is sought out and hired by young Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) as she attempts to track down Tom Chaney (Brolin), her father’s killer, and exact her revenge. Complicating the situation is Texas Ranger LeBoeuf (Damon) who seeks Chaney on a separate charge.

This is a Western not defined by the stereotypes of the genre: that of a celebration of the male ego, male bonding and of course fights with the Indians. At first glance, the male characters are all flawed, Rooster is a drunk, LeBoeuf extremely selfish. It takes Steinfeld’s 13 year old self to show them what True Grit really is before they man up.

Steinfield gives a solid performance in her first feature film

This is Steinfeld’s first venture into feature film and at 13 years old, she proves her worth as an actress just as much as Mattie Ross does in the film, leading to a well deserved Oscar nomination.

The film is shot as a Western, and as such, the audience may forget that this is a Coen Brothers film but for a few telling features. A scene in which Ross talks down a horse trader reminds the audience that they’re sat in a Coen brother’s movie. The dialogue is lightening fast, intelligent and quirky, as Ross bargains her way into getting back all the money owed to her, setting her up as an equal to the two men.

Matt Damon's role is significantly increased in the remake of the original

The father daughter relationship between Ross and Rooster that gave warmth to the original Wayne film is removed by the Coen’s, causing the film to be darker and richer; the relationship between the two becoming undefined and far more complex. Damon’s role as Le Boeuf has been plumped up and filled out. A very secondary character in the 1969 film, he plays a much more prominent character in this new adaptation. His chauvinistic manner and sense of machismo cause tension within the trio and contrast brilliantly with Bridges’ grumbling and growling portrayal of Cogburn.

Other notable performances are that of Tom Chaney, played by Josh Brolin, the repulsive, villainous snake who killed Mattie’s father and Lucky Ned Pepper (Barry Pepper) the leader of the gang that Chaney falls in with.

This film marks a departure from the originality that sets previous Coen Brothers movies apart. Previous releases including A Serious Man (2009), and Burn After Reading (2008) are black comedies written by the brothers. The films twist and turn, tease the audience as they throw them off the scent of the plot and dash any hopes of a classic ‘Hollywood ending.’

'True Grit' shares some similarities with 'No Country For Old Men,' also a Coen Brothers movie

In True Grit, however, they remain fairly true to the original novel by Charles Portis. The film has undertones that mirror their disquieting Western Thriller No Country For Old Men, (2007) as the landscape, beautifully shot by cinematographer Roger Deakins, plays tricks on the eyes of the protagonists and the audience.

Overall, the ending of the film has a certain resonance and honesty, which reflects the tone of the entire film. Though a departure in genre, the artistry and quality that distinguishes the films of Ethan and Joel Coen has not been forgotten in True Grit. With several excellent performances from an incredibly strong cast the film definitely deserves the ten Oscar nominations it has received.



DIRECTORS: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen

CAST: Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Hailee Steinfeld, Josh Brolin,

SCREENWRITERS: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, Charles Portis (novel)

RUNNING TIME:  110 mins.