November 11, 2019
True Grit (2010)
Grade: 64/100

Director: Coen Brothers
Stars: Hailee Steinfeld, Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon

What it's about. Set in the Old West, circa 1878. 14-year-old Mattie (Hailee Steinfeld) settles the estate of her father, and uses some of the money to pay aging, bad-tempered U.S. Marshal Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to hunt down Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), known to be his father's killer. They are joined in their pursuit of Chaney by LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), a Texas Ranger who has sought Chaney since he murdered a Texas state senator.

Chaney is holed out in Indian Territory with the gang of Ned Pepper (Barry Pepper). The body count steadily rises, but the dead are all bad guys. Our heroes become injured but survive.

How others will see it. The Coen Brothers have been at it for some time now, and are as well regarded as any living writer-directors. But most of their films have not been blockbusters. In fact, only the most dedicated cinemaphiles have seen all of them.

But True Grit was a box office hit, and purportedly is the most profitable of all the Coen films. This has to do with the story, which is obviously more commercial than, for example, Barton Fink.

Practically no one believes True Grit is the best Coen Brothers film. Yet it commands a highly respectable 7.6 (out of 10) user rating at, along with a lofty 290K user votes. And it had a whopping ten Oscar nominations, from Best Picture down to Best Sound Mixing. BAFTA added another eight nominations, though, oddly, the Golden Globes overlooked the film entirely, perhaps because the story is quintessentially American.

The user reviews admit that the original (1969) version remains iconic, but generally concur that the remake is better. A surprising number of reviewers have seen both films. And everybody likes the story.

How I felt about it. One can't help but compare the 2010 version with its distant 1968 counterpart from four decades prior, famous as the one Best Actor Oscar win for legendary western actor John Wayne. But that True Grit was not particularly good, with Glen Campbell's performance particularly questionable.

As one might expect, given the Coen Brothers track record, their True Grit is superior to Henry Hathaway's. The Coen Brothers attention to detail is evident throughout The script is certainly better, as is the casting, Wayne excepted. But at age sixty, Jeff Bridges was too old (as was John Wayne) to play an active U.S. Marshal.

It is true that the characters don't act like people we would recognize. Real people tend to be selfish and lazy. But our three leads are heroes, and will risk their lives to save their partners and send the bad guys to their well-deserved deaths.

But since they don't act like real people, we can admire them. Mattie is preternaturally mature, remarkably well spoken, and determined to pursue justice. The final quality is shared by her partners LaBoeuf and Cogburn, and is arguably the sole redeeming quality of the latter.

It is hardly a surprise that Cogburn and LaBoeuf do not get along. Cogburn is ornery, and LaBoeuf talks too much. But they respect each other, since they share the same dangerous vocation, and are both good at it. They have a disdain for outlaws, and a motivation to back their partners.

One message of the film is the hoary "you can't judge a book by its cover." Thus, Mattie is not the delicate young flower she appears to be, and Cogburn is not the spent drunkard that he appears to be. Only LaBoeuf conforms to first impressions.