The Coen brothers continue their examination of the Western – following on from their somewhat overrated (but still very good) ‘modern’ example of the genre, No Country for Old Men (2007), Joel and Ethan have turned their attention to a remake of Henry Hathaway‘s 1969 original True Grit (which won John Wayne his only Oscar).
The Coens’ version, like its predecessor, is adapted from Charles Portis’s original novel, and is clearly far closer to its source – a stubborn, willful and intelligent 14-year-old farm girl, Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) is determined to track down farm hand Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), who murdered her father, to see that he faces justice, either before the law or the barrel of a gun. She hires Reuben J. ‘Rooster’ Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), the toughest US Marshal that she can find, to help her in her quest – it is he supposedly with ‘true grit’, but Ross is set to discover for herself just how far she too is prepared to go, along with Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), who largely disapproves of Cogburn’s methods, but has his own reasons for wanting Chaney caught or killed.
The script, co-written by the brothers, as you would expect, is first rate – an excellent evocation of the way that American English was spoken, back in the day. Steinfield too is very good as the girl who will not take no for an answer in a society where everyone is seemingly on the fiddle and the gun rules.
But, of course, it’s Bridges as Cogburn that you’re paying to see, and he does not disappoint – a snarling, mumbling, drunken but honorouble man who understands only too well the evil of which men are capable and who tries his very best to protect his young charge.
In its fidelity to the original novel, this perhaps lacks the broader comedic sweeps that made the first film so enjoyable, but there is no doubting that, overall, this is the better work, with more than enough suspense, action and, ultimately, pathos to go round. Long may the Coens continue their revival of a genre that many had thought moribund.