Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn
Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross
Matt Damon as LaBoeuf
Josh Brolin as Tom Chaney
Barry Pepper as Lucky Ned Pepper
Dakin Matthews as Col. Stonehill
Jarlath Conroy as Undertaker
Paul Rae as Emmett Quincy
Domhnall Gleeson as Moon (The Kid)
Elizabeth Marvel as 40-Year-Old Mattie
Roy Lee Jones as Yarnell
Ed Corbin as Bear Man
Leon Russom as Sheriff
Bruce Green as Harold Parmalee
Candyce Hinkle as Boarding House Landlady
Peter Leung as Mr. Lee
Don Pirl as Cole Younger
Joe Stevens as Cross-examining Lawyer
David Lipman as First Lawyer
Jake Walker as Judge Parker
Orlando Storm Smart as Stableboy (as Orlando Smart)
Ty Mitchell as Ferryman
Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
After the murder of her father, a young girl named Mattie Rose (Hailee Steinfeld) swears to find and bring his killer Tom Cheney (Josh Brolin) to justice, so she hires the meanest marshall in town, Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn (Jeffrey Bridges), and they’re joined by a Texas Ranger known as LaBoeuf (Matt Damon).
So many great filmmakers have tried their hand at making the Great American Western, that it was only time that the genius filmmakers behind gangster movies like “Miller’s Crossing” and distinctive noir like “The Man Who Wasn’t There” would give a go at it The results? Well, let’s just say that this diehard Coens fan thinks they’ve missed the mark by trying to retain their own personality and making a film that gets completely bogged down in their own overly-verbose script.
The story is a simple one of a girl trying to get justice for her father’s death, which creates odd bedfellows when she hits the trail with two rugged frontiersmen who don’t get along. Newcomer Hailee Steinfeld is the very heart of the film as she should be, and she’s so credible as Mattie Rose that you almost feel resentful when the better-known actors detract from her fine performance. Once former “Dude” Jeff Bridges shows up on screen as Rooster Cogburn, a role made famous by John Wayne in the original adaptation of Charles Portis’ novel, the movie literally turns into “The Jeff Bridges Show” and it’s all about his personification of the character, growling every line with a gravelly drunken slur. The first time we meet Cogburn he’s obscured inside an outhouse, the second time in a long-winded courtroom scene, and once they head off on the road, Mattie is forced to take a backseat to the constant bickering of Cogburn and Matt Damon’s LaBoeuf, which quickly gets tiring.
As one might expect, the script is as good as anything else the Coens have written and it’s distinctively Coenesque, keeping the film from being a complete waste of time, but it also clutters the movie with the type of long-winded conversations that bogs the film down all along the way. The brothers’ sense of humor doesn’t always mesh with the nature of the Old West, which creates a tone similar to that of Aaron Schneider’s “Get Low,” another period film set in the South, and it’s hard not to think of Duvall’s hermit while watching Jeff Bridges’ crotchety performance. Much of the acting, particularly with the bit players, seems to be deliberately cartoonish, which has worked well in the past in context of the Coens’ other work but not so much in scenes where people are being killed.
The sad fact is that Coens’ take on “True Grit” is fairly dull with only a few truly memorable moments like a great scene early on that has Mattie negotiating money for her father’s horses, but other scenes continually grind on one’s patience because it does little to move the already slow-paced story closer to its climax. Other than a couple well-executed shootouts, the movie doesn’t really start to get going until the last act, roughly 30 minutes before the end, when Josh Brolin shows up as Cheney and things come to a head as Mattie finally has her chance to get justice. By then, the film has been so bogged down by all of Bridges’ overacting and nonsense that has nothing to do with the movie. There’s a couple great scenes between Steinfeld and Brolin and an extremely moving denouement that brings some humanity to Bridges’ Cogburn, though a little too late to make up for his earlier overacting, and it’s hard to believe anyone could change as drastically as he does. The brief epilogue that follows that powerful emotional moment is somewhat of a let-down.
Carter Burwell’s score incorporates a lot of grand hymns to create something that’s quite grand and bombastic, though it often feels as manipulative as the music Clint Eastwood has used so flagrantly in his films. The film looks great, possibly some of Roger Deakins’ best work ever, but following on the heels of an equally well-written Western show like “Deadwood” and lacking the intensity to keep one riveted as the video game “Red Dead Redemption,” the Coens’ “True Grit” doesn’t feel like a great Western nor does it feel up to par with some of their own classics.
The Bottom Line:
The Coens do their best to mix iconic Western tropes with their own sense of style and comic timing, but their adaptation of “True Grit” feels fairly uninspired compared to previous efforts making it fairly blatant they should stick to their own original material in the future.