Remakes can be tricky things: you make it too similar to the original, and it becomes pointless, change it too much, and it might as well be a standalone film. Hollywood has yet to truly grasp this concept as they have begun churning out remake after remake in recent years, and most of them have fallen into those previously mentioned catagories.
However, this is not the case with the Coen Bros. True Grit, a remake of the John Wayne western classic. The Coen Bros. are masterful filmmakers who know better than most anyone else how to make a truly American film, and there is no more American film genre than the western. We’ve been waiting for the brothers to take this leap for a long time, and it’s well worth it.
True Grit follows young Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), who seeks revenge for the murder of her father by Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin). She hires rough-around-the-edges U.S. Marshall “Rooster” Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to help her track down Chaney and bring him to justice. The two of them form a shaky partnership with a braggart Texas Ranger named La Boeuf (Matt Damon) and venture into Indian territory in search for Chaney.
Although the main cast includes three A-list actors, most of the cast consists of much lesser known film actors or character actors. However, there is also newcomer Hailee Steinfeld who, while occasionally bearing the slightly stiff and awkward delivery of a first time film actor, delivers a fine performance as smart-mouthed Mattie Ross. Also, Jeff Bridges disappears into the character of Rooster Cogburn, who maintains his intimidating qualities while also being very lighthearted. This is not the larger than life hero that was John Wayne’s Cogburn. Jeff Bridges’ Rooster is dirty, rude, and very mean, yet also a comic foil to the more straight-laced Ross.
Perhaps the more striking aspect of the film (to fans of the Coen Bros. anyway) is that it lacks many of the eccentricites of past Coen Bros. films. While it retains their trademark dark humor, True Grit is framed as a straightforward genre picture. There are no weird camera angles, strange music choices, outlandish special effects, or wacky characters. This could be because the Coens wished to stay truer to the original instead of creating something more eccentric like the rest of the work.
In the end, there isn’t much to talk about with the Coen Bros.’ True Grit. It’s a fantastic western, a remake that stands on it’s own merits, and great fun time at the movies.
Production Value: 9
Entertainment Value: 9