On Blu-ray and DVD
“True Grit,” written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, based on a novel by Charles Portis, 110 minutes, rated PG-13.
Westerns coming out of Hollywood in this era face the challenge of meeting the time-honored traditions of the genre without being confined to them. It presents difficulties for filmmakers, who have to walk a tightrope trying to not lean too far one way or the other.
Fortunately, with Joel and Ethan Coen behind the camera, there are absolutely no worries.
“True Grit,” based on the novel by Charles Portis, which was made famous by Henry Hathaway’s 1969 movie starring John Wayne, introduces audiences to Hailee Steinfeld, a break-out star. She plays Mattie Ross, a stubborn young girl with gumption seeking justice for her father’s slaying at the hands of Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin).
With no help in sight from the law, the 14-year-old hires Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges, always brilliant), a gruff, trigger-happy U.S. Marshal with “true grit.” Under the Coens’ direction, Bridges creates yet another classic character, continuing to secure his cinematic legacy as Cogburn, who is larger-than-life, but also washed up.
Mattie and Rooster are joined by a Texas Ranger named Laboeuf (pronounced La-Beef), who has been tracking Chaney for months. He’s played mostly for laughs by a bushy-mustached Matt Damon. The motley crew heads into Choctaw territory in search of “Lucky” Ned Pepper’s (Barry Pepper) gang, which is harboring Chaney.
As in true Coen Brothers fashion, the cast is given the freedom to put a spin on their characters to create something that is truly unique. That Coen-actor collaboration not only produces some of the best performances of the year, it also is clear that the actors are having fun with the process. It’s part of what makes Coen Brothers movies such a pleasure to watch.
One could argue that the brothers are in the golden age of their career, making movies with a depth they’ve never reached before, without losing the quirkiness that has won movie-goers over for years. “True Grit” has the memorable oddball supporting cast; the awkward, almost uncomfortable dialogue that only the Coens could make entertaining; and cinematography that is some of the best from 2010.
“True Grit’s” final moments, however, are as cold and sudden as “A Serious Man” or “No Country for Old Men.” It’s a new and admirable direction for the brothers, and it shows their maturity as filmmakers.
Consistent with the their more recent films, there’s an unstoppable force at work here. It makes wounds heal, memories fade and people die. Take that for what you will.
For me, it’s what makes “True Grit” one of the best films from 2010.