Written & Directed by Joel & Ethan Coen
Since their debut in 1984 with Blood Simple, the Brothers Coen have been nothing less than a staple in great filmmaking. They have made countless classics and they are no one trick pony. They always seem to find to make whatever film they are making original. Auteur theory states that filmmakers have the ability to essentially leave their mark on a film so that even if you know nothing about the film, you could figure out who made it. The Coen Brothers are auteurs. They have a flair and a style that lets you know it is Joel and Ethan. The other remarkable thing is, unlike Michael Bay’s auteurism, you know with these two brothers that you are going to receive a quality, well made film.
What makes this film different is that it is a remake; and a remake of a John Wayne film at that. What they do have going for them, however, is casting Jeff Bridges in the role of Rooster Cogburn; well, that and the Coen brothers know how to write great dialogue. Joining Bridges in the cast are Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper and newcomer Hailee Steinfeld. Steinfeld, despite what the awards may be pushing, and she is deserving of the awards buzz, is the lead character in the film. Her father is killed by Tom Chaney (Brolin) and she sets out to have him arrested and killed, as the law won’t pursue him. To aide her, she hires U.S. Marshal Cogburn (Bridges) and gets a tag along friend in Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Damon). The group tracks the outlaw and his cohorts through Indian territory in search of redemption.
What sets this film apart from the original, which is a good film, is the cinematography by veteran Roger Deakins; the performance of Steinfeld, which is sympathetic and endearing rather than the annoying performance by Kim Darby; and the great writing by the Coen Brothers. To comment on the John Wayne role, I think Bridges did just as good a job as Wayne, who won the Academy Award for his performance. But what really, in the end, makes the difference is the Coen Brothers. They are able to make it their own and make enough changes to the original to keep it fresh. And darn do they write great dialogue.
I did not aim to compare the two films when I set out to write this review, so I will leave it because they are two separate films that are only related because they feature the same title. They are different films and should be treated as such. That being said, the Coen Brother’s True Grit is a very good western, a genre that does not get enough releases these days. The technical aspects of the film are very good, but it is also just a lot of fun. At the end of the day the Coen Brothers have done it again. Even if it doesn’t rank as one of the two or three best films in their careers, that still means it is a great film.