I love this film. This is the first film of 2011 I’ll probably go back to the cinema to watch again.
1870, Fort Smith, Arkansas, 14 year old girl Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) is out for revenge after her father is shot by a man named Tom Cheney (Josh Brolin). With nobody chasing after Cheney, Mattie takes it upon herself to hunt Chaney by hiring a brutal US marshal by the name Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges). With Cheney linking up with the outlaw Ned Pepper and heading deep into Indian country and others joining the chase, Mattie and Rooster head out.
I haven’t read the novel or watched the entire 1969 film starring John Wayne. I consider westerns sentimental and lacking bite, making dull a turbulent period of history.
Thankfully, True Grit is dirtier, bloodier aaaand grittier with a wonderful fairy-tale tone, probably stemming from the Coen brothers.
The world created is fascinating as the details, dialogue and acting and tone look and sound genuine and enrapturing. There are a lot of long shots that capturing the beautiful landscape from forests to plains, but it is the people and details inhabiting this landscape that really impress.
Rooster Cogburn is a US Marshall who has been on both sides of the law and with some cruellest forces in the confederate army. Jeff Bridges growls his way through his part and you have to acclimatise to it but you enjoy his performance. Jeff has a wonderful dead-pan manner which works well in the film when it throws up strange or disturbing scenes that Jeff meets with an ambivalent quip.
Matt Damon, who has grown tremendously as an actor, is charming as LaBoeuf, a talkative Texas Ranger. Ridiculous and romantic in outlook and actions and full of pride. “A saucy line will not get you far with me”
His pride gets between himself and Cogburn which is amusing but also gives reality to their interaction as LaBoeuf is offended by the fact that Cogburn rode with Quantrill’s raiders, a great detail alongside his pride in the use of a sharps carbine.
The stand-out performance is Hailee Steinfeld who was 13 when the movie was shot. Her performance as Mattie Ross is extraordinary. She deserves an Oscar for best actress (she’s nominated for Supporting Actress). She is is played as a strong-willed, gutsy and very intelligent girl.
Her character is interesting as she is part scripture spouting prim and proper miss, “One way or another you must pay for everything in this world,” part slick business mind. A lot of the best moments involve her bamboozling people with her sales patter which leaves older men confused and terrorised.
Her relationship with Bridges’s Rooster sparkles with charm as it evolves from hard task-master (harpy) and crotchety old man into father/daughter, as she hounds him, “You have misjudged me if you think I am silly enough to give you $50 dollars and simply ride off.” Then the two grows in fondness for eachother and like Rooster, you will be charmed by his baby-sister.
At times, despite her formidable character and energy, you recognise the young girl with pig-tails underneath the bravado but she, like Rooster and LeBeouf, finds her True Grit and watching their journey, hers especially, is satisfying.