I’ll be the first to admit that: I am not a fan of the Coen Brothers. Joel and Ethan Coen are a dynamic directing/writing/producing duo that have taken the Oscar world by storm in the last few years, specializing in a specific type of dark comedy that doesn’t really suit my cinematic tastes; I hated “Burn After Reading” more than anything I’ve seen before or since.
Although I don’t think their movies are bad, I hadn’t found one that I thoroughly enjoyed yet. That being said, “True Grit” is an incredibly entertaining Western that thrives on its three fantastic leads, great dialogue and spurts of hilarious deadpan humor.
The story revolves around 14-year-old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) whose father is murdered by outlaw Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) and her quest to hunt him down with the help of an ornery U.S. marshal and a pompous Texas ranger. Mattie exhibits impressive intelligence and wisdom belying her years as she tears through the town in which her father was murdered, demanding her father’s possessions and confronting local law enforcement.
In her desperation to hunt Chaney down, she turns to Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn (Jeff Bridges). More famous for killing in the name of the law than apprehending, Cogburn is a character both lovable and detestable. Consistently drunk and surprisingly competent, his antics are the main source of comedy in the film. Bridges delivers a tour de force as he delivers each line with a cool that he hasn’t flashed this much since “The Big Lebowski.”
Matt Damon is the last of the trio of main characters as the buffoonish Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (or “La Beef” as pronounced by Mattie and Cogburn) that has been chasing Chaney across the country. Always a few steps behind, LaBoeuf has a big mouth and an ego to match. It’s the banter between Mattie, Cogburn and LaBoeuf that form the most entertaining scenes of the movie.
I had two complaints with “True Grit.” The first one might only affect a minority of the audience, but I sometimes had a difficult time understanding what Cogburn was saying. Bridges grumbles through a few of his lines in an initially-unintelligible slur; I missed a good 15 to 20 percent of his dialogue in the beginning of the movie.
My other complaint revolves around the ending. After a very exciting climax, the movie seems to peter out. The coda seems bolted on to rush the movie toward a ridiculous anti-climax as boring as the initial one is exciting. As a re-adaptation of a novel of the same name, this might be more a problem with the source material than a shortcoming of the Coens themselves.
Westerns in modern cinema are few and far between, and “True Grit” does the genre justice. The cinematography does an excellent job of portraying a believable Wild West. Even if you don’t appreciate the Western genre, the situational comedy and humorous dialogue has a deadpan humor that perfectly suits the setting.
“True Grit” is a good film that parlays the strengths of its lead actors and actress into a surprisingly unique result, giving the audience an opportunity to appreciate a work of the Coen Brothers.