A Western way of life – It’s so easy to forget Westerns and what they have meant to Hollywood over the years. But, the reality is, Westerns are what helped shape the Hollywood we know now and had technology not grown like it did the past 100 years, we might enjoy what a Western brings to the table a bit more. With that said, it’s a good thing the Coen brothers are around, as without them, we would get little to nothing from this lost genre. So, while “True Grit” may not be an original idea, it’s still one worth watching and one I would bet will be on a few Oscar ballots next month.
What’s it about? Adapted from the Charles Portis 1968 novel of the same name, this marks the second time a film has been made, the first being back in 1969 with John Wayne. And in both instances, it follows the trials and tribulations of Rooster Cogburn, a U.S. Marshall who was said to be the most merciless at tracking down criminals. After her father was murdered by one of his hired hands, Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), 14-year-old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) took it upon herself to hire someone to track down Chaney and bring him to justice. And after a brief, yet thorough search that included talking to a Texas Ranger by the name of La Boeuf (Matt Damon), Mattie decided to hire Cogburn (Jeff Bridges). But, when she arrived to meet Cogburn the next morning, she found a note telling her to go home and wait for him to return with Chaney in hand. Unwilling to do this, Mattie took off after Cogburn, only to find him and La Boeuf together. Turns out La Boeuf had been tracking Chaney for a crime in Texas for quite some time, so with Cogburn’s expertise with the Choctaw territory, the two made a deal to work together to find Chaney. Accusing Cogburn of fraud, he and La Boeuf agree to let Mattie come along unleashing a wicked chain of events that would push everyone’s nerves to the limits as this once simple manhunt turned into an adventure of will and survival.
Who was in it? For those not paying attention, seeing the likes of Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon will be enough to watch “True Grit.” But, as I quickly found out, there’s so much more to this film written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. So, while I can easily praise Jeff Bridges over and over again for his part in this film, he’s not what made it work. That responsibility was all Hailee Steinfeld’s, who did more than her share as the young and vivacious Mattie Ross. What a performance by the young actress, who grabbed my attention within the first three-minutes of her appearing on the big screen. And over the course of the rest of the film, you were stuck in everything her character was doing, validating any nomination that comes her way this season. As for the aforementioned Bridges, what else is there to say for a guy who seems to be hitting his stride this late in a 40-year career. He’s great and everything he does here helps make his co-stars even better, which was certainly the case with Matt Damon. For anyone wanting to see Damon and not “Jason Bourne,” this is it as I often forgot who I watching on screen. He was great in his supporting role, showing a new side to the wide range of talent we always knew he had. Same could also be said for Josh Brolin, but with so little screen time, it was hard to buy into his character fully, which is a shame, given what Brolin can bring to a film when given more room to work with.
Overzealous directing – I would love for once to sit down and watch a Coen brother’s film and not be irritated, but apparently that’s just not going to happen. Taking a unique story that has been done before is one thing, but to take that story and not tweak it to make a better ending is just callous if you ask me. To add in this extra storyline to a film that should have ended 10 minutes earlier is pointless. I simply do not care about some of the added detail and emotion the Coen’s put into the last 20 minutes of their films. I can get on board with endings that don’t end the way you want, but to end it without thinking about how it plays out on the big screen is annoying. Because, I can imagine any ending like the one here or in “No Country for Old Men” is much better in a book, so when that’s the case, adapt and ensure the audience “gets” what they are owed after watching the first part of the film.
To throw endings like this into a film within this genre makes no sense to me, but given all the nominations that will undoubtedly go their way, I realize I will obviously be in the minority. With that said, it didn’t deter from the overall enjoyment this film offered, as there are so many other aspects to it that should be honored. Like the cinematography and backdrops, which were breathtaking at times, capturing this time period perfectly. That and the cast is why this film will be praised over the next month; so while I would love to give more kudos to the Coen brother’s for at least not ruining this film with their questionable ending, it really should have never come down to that.
Bottom Line – As the current box office leader, there’s definitely a lot to like with “True Grit,” but I can’t help but think it could have been better, had the Coen brother’s decided to spin this wasteful ending in a different direction. With that said, it doesn’t deter you from the rest of the film, which is more than I could have asked from a film in this forgotten genre.