OK confession: I’ve never seen the John Wayne film. Strike me down, but it’s never much appealed to me. Which is funny since one of my favourite Westerns is The Searchers. But True Grit has never been on the TV when I’ve been in the mood to watch it. Not that it’s on all that often anyway. After seeing this film though, I’d be happy to have a look at the original. This makes me basically the perfect audience for this ‘remake’ (I don’t necessarily see it as a remake, since it uses the original source material – the book by Charles Portis – as its inspiration), I had no expectations going in, and the Coen Brothers couldn’t ruin any memories I might have had. I know there are people out there shouting ‘This is an abomination! There was no need to remake this film!’ Well I guess there was a need, since I was happy to take myself off to the cinema and watch it. I do kind of understand this feeling though, since I don’t like it when films dear to me are remade (and ruined!), so maybe in the future I’ll try and be less angry about them, all live and let live, happy just to know a new audience is discovering something I love…
Yeah, that’s never gonna happen.
I’m also not a Coen Brothers fangirl. I can take them or leave them. The Big Lebowski and O Brother, Where Art Thou? Loved. Fargo and No Country For Old Men? Meh. But the trailer for this film totally hooked me and I was eager to see it. It’s a formulaic story, as I suppose a lot of Westerns are. 14 year old Mattie Ross (Hailie Steinfeld) vows to avenge her father’s death when he is killed trying to stop hired hand Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) in a petty fight. Strong, smart and quick-tongued, Mattie soon raises the money needed to hire an old Marshal, Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) . He initially double-crosses her and leaves her behind, but she’s more than a match for him and catches up. Along for the ride is Texas Ranger, LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), who has been on Chaney’s trail for months with no luck.
The rest is fairly straightforward fare, a search for bad man in harsh times, some bickering and a fair amount of trouble, but not so much that you fear for their lives. But on most levels it didn’t disappoint. It is visually stunning with a beautiful score and has amazing actors. Hailee Steinfeld is especially good and more than holds her own against more established actors. And I always love seeing Jeff Bridges in films. It’s fun to see him in this part of his career, so far removed from the pretty boy of his early acting days. Matt Damon struggles a bit and has to contend with talking with a hurt tongue for half the movie, but he’s still competent. Josh Brolin gets very little screen time, but I thought he was very good with what he had to play with. Seemingly harmless one moment and menacing the next with Mattie on the river.
I had thought the film would be long, an epic, but it comes in at under two hours, and it never feels it. There’s always enough going on to keep your interest, and lots of great dialogue and sparring between the characters. But that’s not to say it’s perfect. It’s genuinely entertaining yes, but it doesn’t have much depth. There’s not a lot of characterisation going on; we’re given the barest of glimpses at Cogburn’s life, outside of being a crotchety drunk who likes shooting people. And who knows what LaBoeuf thought about anything. But Mattie was where I felt this the most. It doesn’t delve into her motivation other than ‘He done me wrong and I want him punished!’ It doesn’t go into how she feels about the loss of her father, or leaving her mother and siblings behind. We don’t know whether she’s scared or how she will feel when she finally meets Chaney, let alone if she kills him. Is it something that she’ll carry around with her? Is she OK with that? Or is it something she just has no truck with? No, it’s just a straight up revenge story, and because of that it doesn’t leave much of a lasting impression.
I don’t want to leave it on a negative note. It’s well worth seeing and I enjoyed it very much. I just think there could have been more to it that would have made it fantastic, rather than just good or solid.