Dir.: the Coen brothers
With: Hailee Steinfeld, Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon.
I never really watched westerns, partly because they are the kind of films you’d watch as a child and I never came across them and partly because in my mind they were always testosterone-fuelled tales of brutish men shooting at each other. True Grit is very different from this cliché. Firstly, the protagonist is a 14-year-old girl Mattie, who is extremely likable in all her earnest, strong-minded and bloodthirsty ways. She is extremely well played by Hailee Steinfeld with a surprising mixture of maturity, vulnerability and humour. The men of the film are not your average heroic cowboys – there is a one-eyed boozy marshal Rooster Cogburn played by Jeff Bridges and a dapper and slightly ridiculous Texan ranger LaBeouf played by Matt Damon. Both performances are of a very high standard, Jeff Bridges is comical, pathetic and menacing; Matt Damon, with his enviable facial hair, makes the character’s trajectory from an annoying and proud fool to a humble hero very realistic.
As I said, there is a lot of humour in the film, not the kind that would make you laugh out loud, but rather chuckle in a pleased sort of way. The thing that I liked the most about it was that it reminded me of all those adventure novels like Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn that I used to read. There is the same sense of wilderness, danger and a roguish kind of attitude to life in this film; the equal amount of blood, cruelty and corpses. There are the bad guys and the good guys and the distinction is made very clear (although in the case of Rooster Cogburn we judge him on his merit and good heart rather than his moral and professional code); and there is the young protagonist who is full of fire and curiosity. One of the best scenes in the film is when Mattie bravely swims across the river on her horse with the two men staring at her agape.
I haven’t seen the original True Grit from 1969, but according to the reviews that I read this modern version is just as good if not better. It is also much closer in its bleakness to the novel it’s based on. One minor criticism is that Jeff Bridges’s slurred speech was quite hard to follow at times, but I guess it was him really living in his character’s shoes. Also, the bandits in the end turn out to be only half as dangerous as you’d like them to be, crooked teeth and all.
Whenever you watch a film with famous actors in it, you know that you are watching George Clooney and Johnny Depp. This time, the acting was so convincing that I found that I suspended my disbelief and bought into the characters completely, which is always a mark of high professionalism and good directorship. I’d also like to mention the cinematography, which was rather brilliant; the sepia hues made the film look much like an old photograph coming to life.