Reviewing a Coen Brothers film is usually an exercise in inventively arranging superlatives, and True Grit definitely doesn't break from the mould. Following up their terrifyingly impressive neo-Western No Country for Old Men, Joel and Ethan Coen have gone toe-to-toe with the genre god himself — John Wayne — with their remake of his 1969 Oscar-winning film. Both are adaptations of Charles Portis' novel, which sees a tough nut spinster Mattie Ross recounting her adventure as a 14-year-old girl when she stoically set out to bring her father's murderer to justice. Teaming up with a dubious drunkard of a US Marshall Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), the straight-shooting teen (Hailee Steinfeld) sets her sights firmly on finding the killer Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin). But as Chaney is already being hunted by proud Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), a precarious and unwittingly comedic trio is formed out in dangerous Indian Territory.
Adoring adjectives aside, let's just say that it's once again time to worship at the altar of the Coen Bros. Across the board, from casting to direction, to framing and editing, True Grit is master class filmmaking. Steinfield makes an astonishing film debut as the tenacious and dazzlingly litigious Mattie. It's a sight to see her diminutive figure in oversized clothes facing up to the likes of Bridges and Damon — themselves both in fighting fit form — and coming up trumps. But Bridges and Damon are similarly in their element on a production that exudes confidence, style and an infectious wit. As Rooster, Bridges can chalk up another winning character next to The Big Lebowski's Dude, while Damon is at his scene-stealing best, bringing his comedic chops and an incorrigible cowlick to his turn in spurs.
True Grit is a sparse and simple story, whose delights derive from its wondrously affected dialogue dancing on the tongues of its pitch perfect cast. This humour and familiar storyline makes True Grit a refreshingly accessible, as well as a surprisingly sentimental, addition to the Coen Bros filmography. The Coens are often maligned for not caring about their characters (a charge that makes for vigorous debate), but their affection for Mattie and her plight is unequivocal. If anything, the film's coda — drawn from Portis' text — is a tad overstated and perhaps even unnecessary. Yet as homage as well as an impressive addition to the Western genre, True Grit is ultimately a testament to the filmmakers' true love of cinema.
Australian release date: 26 January 2011