Having reviewed the original True Grit on DVD last week, I was intrigued and even over-excited to see how the Coen Brothers would update this tale of revenge and retribution for the more desensitized audiences of the 21st Century. The results were surprising, as instead of doing their own interpretation of the tale they still borrowed heavily from the cues of the original, starring John Wayne. But has it got enough 'grit'?
The film stars big screen debutant Hailee Steinfeld as young Mattie Ross as she enlists the services of ageing US Marshall, Reuben 'Rooster' Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) and a Texas Ranger (Matt Damon) to hunt down outlaw, Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) for killing her father. Save for a few subtle differences and a much improved, more reflective ending, the film stays true to the upbeat spirit of the original film.
Make no mistakes however, and leave the 'romance of classic cinema' at the door as this is a far superior film to the original. Hailee Steinfeld was quite remarkable in the role of Mattie, taking on the characteristics of the original's Kim Darby with far less irritation and a bit more brooding - though I don't understand how she's only got a Best Supporting nod when she was just as central to the film as Bridges. Nevertheless, considering this is her first ever acting role, she very much held her own with the her more experienced and seasoned co-stars.
While Jeff Bridges seemed to owe arguably more to his Oscar-winning role in last year's Crazy Heart than he does to John Wayne's rendition of the anti-hero, Rooster Cogburn he was, as ever, a joy to behold on screen. He was brutish, inaudible, witty, decisively sincere and even at times quite vulnerable and knowing of the world around him. Matt Damon meanwhile was perfect foil as the polar opposite to Bridges' Cogburn as the more squeaky clean law enforcer, LeBeef...I mean, LeBoeuf.
Josh Brolin's presence, in the build up to his anticipated appearance, was probably more sinister than when he was eventually unveiled to the audience, but was still excellent. Special praise must be reserved for Barry Pepper's performance as 'Lucky' Ned Pepper though, channelling remarkably his inner Robert Duvall - who played the role in the original.
What the Coen's captured beautifully was the imagery and the values of the era, grounding the film heavily in god-fearing religious sensibilities - emphasized more so in Carter Burwell's emotive, soulful score. Even more remarkable was the sheer accessibility of the entire feature. I'm not even talking about people who haven't seen the original, but more people who have been put off by Westerns after sitting through the long and methodical pieces like, the bloody marvellous, The Assassination of Jesse James or the epic period 'Western' drama There Will Be Blood or even as far back as some of Sergio Leone's classics like Once Upon a Time In The West. Excellent films all of them, but even I'll admit they're not exactly easy viewing.
The True Grit of the 21st Century sheds the silly stigma that all remakes are completely needless and utter tosh - becoming a far more accessible and ultimately more mature adaptation of Charles Portis' novel than its predecessor. While Jeff Bridges deserves his plaudits and his Oscar nod, excelling in the role made famous by John Wayne, the stand-out star for myself was the extremely classy performance of Hailee Steinfeld. Go see it, and remember once again why the world fell in love with Westerns. True Grit, true classic.
True Grit is in cinemas everywhere now. Film geeks can also look further by checking out the original out on DVD (review below...)