TRUE GRIT (2010) Review
Jeff Bridges is a national treasure. Not the Nick Cage, “let’s find the real Constitution” kind. The good kind. And he’s old enough now, at 61, that we ought to start realizing that he won’t be around forever, at the height of his powers to compel us not to blink when he’s onscreen, and cherish every role he takes on – even the not-so-good ones (we’ll get to “TRON: Power Nap” another time). But we’re not here to write his obituary. Let’s save that for, oh, everyone who crosses his path in the Cohen brothers’ superior remake of TRUE GRIT.
Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) is a 14-year-old girl out for retribution. Her father was murdered by one of his hired hands, the callous but resourceful Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin, whom we don’t see until almost half-way through the movie, and then only briefly and sporadically). She seeks out recommendations for a lawman she can hire to bring her father’s killer to justice. Among her choices are two fair-minded and sober men—and then there’s Rooster Cogburn (Bridges): drunk, rough– and way too quick on the trigger. She chooses him for precisely this reason, and through his protestations, accompanies him on the hunt for Chaney, in an uneasy alliance with Texas Ranger La Boeuf (an uncharacteristically flat Matt Damon) who’s been after Chaney for another murder and has been foiled time after time in trying to capture the wily outlaw.
Do they get their man? Have you seen a western before?
Just as it is hard to imagine a film about ballet that’s more of a guy’s movie than “Black Swan,” True Grit feels more like a chick flick than any western since 1994’s awful “Bad Girls.” Steinfeld’s female lead is never overshadowed by the macho powerhouses she’s constantly surrounded by, and even when she is in mortal danger the Cohens never allow us to pity her for being a girl in a man’s world. It’s the cinematic equivalent of girl-power anthems like Florence & the Machine’s “Dog Days are Over”: whether you’re a dude or a dudette, you can’t help but draw your own strength from the girl as she wades through a river of man’s injustices to man, and somehow, barely, manages to come out the other side alive.
This is not a perfect movie. The slower portions do not resonate quite as strongly as those in the Cohens’ best dramas (“Fargo,” “Miller’s Crossing”). Other than Bridges, the all-star cast feels chronically under-utilized. But it’s hard not to love this movie. The story is classic for a reason – the characters are clearly motivated, flawed, and deeply drawn. The ending is satisfying and thought-provoking. Hailee Steinfeld may have a breakthrough role on her hands. And then there’s Bridges, chewing through dialogue, making us wait for every syllable as he swallows whatever bit of leather he’s biting at before blowing away some well-deserving evildoer and not giving it a second thought. He’s just who we’d want on our side if we had a blood debt to repay.
Follow me on Twitter @The_OBrien.