True Grit

Photo: allmoviephoto.com

Starring Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld, Matt Damon and Josh Brolin. Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. 110 minutes. 14A

There's something about westerns that pulls me in and I can't figure out what that is. They're slow, inhumanly ruthless and everyone needs to shower really, really badly. Though whatever it is, it's worked on me again with this Coen bros semi-remake.

True Grit follows Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) on her journey to avenge her father's death and bring his murderer, Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) back to town to be hanged. But of course, a 14-year-old can't do it on her own, so she enlists U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), a man with true grit, to help her track the villain down. When Cogburn finally agrees to help her for a fee, he refuses to let her tag along and instead teams up with Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) for the hunt. Though a determined Mattie catches up and won't abandon the chase.

What works for this film is its simplicity. The plot is easy to follow, settings are natural and characters are fairly single-minded. Yes, it does lead to some predictability (as with most westerns), but with such a driving storyline, these elements string along well.

But what does rattle the ease is Steinfeld as Mattie. A newcomer among her Academy Award-winning co-stars, she manages to deliver the most compelling performance, and in doing so, seems to make the character of Mattie even larger than she might have been. While she does open the film, she later becomes the tag-along with Cogburn and LaBoeuf, and could easily have fallen into the shadows, if not for the umph she brings to her scenes. Though a bit over-the-top at times, Steinfeld suits the western genre as the strong-willed, gutsy Mattie.

The other surprise about this film is it's un-Coen-ness. Although there is a bit of Coen quirk, if I hadn't know, I'd probably never guess this was a Coen bros film. And while it is still a great film, I hope this isn't a route they stay on, but rather a quick, captivating detour through the dusty West. A-

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