Review: ‘True Grit’-Jeff Bridges with a shotgun and an eyepatch, what more could you want?

30 01 2011

Jeff Bridges as US Marshall Rooster Cogburn in "True Grit"

The Coen brothers show they have a real sense for the classic Western and Jeff Bridges shows off an eye patch in the Oscar nominated True Grit. Full review after the jump…

The Details

True Grit (2010, 110 minutes, rated PG-13)

Directed by: Joel and Ethan Coen (see also: No Country For Old Men (2008), The Big Lebowski (1998), and Fargo (1997)

Written by: Joel and Ethan Coen, adapted from novel “True Grit” by Charles Portis

Starring: Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld, Matt Damon, and Josh Brolin

The Review:

The Coen brothers are famous for their offbeat, dark comedies like Fargo (1997), The Big Lebowski (1998), and Burn After Reading (2008), even No Country for Old Men (2007) had the weird villain of Anton Chigurh. But True Grit seems like a departure for them. It is a classic western that takes itself seriously (as serious as you can be with a character named Rooster Cogburn who has an eyepatch). The Coens tone down their usual style and rely on simple classic sensibilities to create a real modern Western. True Grit is the story of Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), a 14 year old girl who has employed US Marshall Rooster Cogburn to help track down and kill a murderer, Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin). Chaney had killed Ross’ father and she is seeking a bit of revenge. Along the way Cogburn and Ross meet up with Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon). The movie is an adventure and the young Maddie Ross is more than capable of keeping up with the experienced men.

The plot is simple enough, a group out for revenge in the old West and in that simplicity I think the Coens really shine. They hold back here, there is nothing especially fancy or showy in their work. They let the scenes breathe and move slowly, showcasing the beautiful wilderness our heroes roam. The boys are aided here by the stunning cinematography of their long time collaborator Roger Deakins. These three take full advantage of the their location shoots and really create a incredible backdrop for the actors to work in front of. They restrain themselves and they just simply tell a story and tell it well while letting some of the trademarked Coen brothers dialogue in when necessary.

Then there are these great performances. The big draw for this film will obviously be Jeff Bridges in the iconic John Wayne role. Jeff Bridges is at the top of his career, last month alone he had two high profile films in True Grit and Tron Legacy, and this week he got his second Oscar nomination in two years for Best Lead Actor. He is being taken seriously as an actor and there is a good reason for it. He throws himself into this role, playing all the right notes. He can be abrasive, funny, wry, stubborn, and the most daring and headstrong US Marshall in the old West. Bridges is doing some excellent work here. But the real star of this movie has got to be young Hailee Steinfeld as Maddie Ross. Steinfeld plays here straight up, and plucky little girl just trying to look out for herself and her family in a very mean and dangerous world. She plays Ross as a very mature young girl who has had to grow up very fast. This character needs to be able to hold her own against the likes of Bridges, Damon, and Brolin, and Steinfeld is more than up for the challenge. This is a truly great performance and I’m not just saying that because she’s so young and she kind of makes it work, no, this is a girl who can really act and delivers a strong central lead performance. This isn’t Dakota Fanning being cute and giving a passable performance, this is real acting and Steinfeld is absolutely deserving of the Oscar nomination she received this week for Best Supporting Actress (as much as I’d have liked to seen her receive a nomination for Best Lead Actress, at least she has a chance in this category rather than being up against the certain (and deserved) winner Natalie Portman). She’s certainly aided by the high caliber of acting around her, but Steinfeld carries a good part of this film, as she should because in the end this story is about Maddie Ross, not about Rooster Cogburn or that crazy Texas Ranger. And briefly, it’d be a shame to not mention the great work of both Matt Damon and Josh Brolin in their respective roles. They’re both at the top of their game. Just really strong performances throughout the entire film, I love it all.

There is so much more to talk about with this beautiful movie but I think I’ll just move onto the verdict…

The Verdict

True Grit is easily one of my favorite films of 2010. It has a simple story and it is told in a simple way, but in that simplicity is beauty and you can see the real care, time, and patience that went into making this movie. The performances are strong, the writing is understated with a little bit of Coen flare, and the direction here is beautiful. I’d be happy to see True Grit pick up some Oscar awards in February.

Whose movie is it?

Once again I think I’ve gotta give this one to the directors, Joel and Ethan Coen. The performances are all great, especially from the young Steinfeld, but here the Coens show off a restrained sensibility that really works for them. It’s their direction that moves this story along and they are ultimately responsible for creating beautiful world for their actors to work. What can I say, I’m a sucker for the Coen Brothers.

Last Word:

For the longest time this years Oscar race seemed to be between The King’s Speech and The Social Network. The two had gone back and forth between being the front runner, Network won the best picture Golden Globe then Speech won the Producer’s Guild Award (a great predictor for best picture Oscar winner). And then something strange happened this week, all of a sudden True Grit showed up with a whopping 10 Oscar nominations, more than Network and only two less than Speech. The Academy is showing how much they actually liked True Grit and this could be a dark horse contender for Best Picture. In such a busy category, ten total nominees, Grit may be able to sneak in there. Bridges probably won’t win the best actor award two years in a row but Steinfeld stands a good chance at that Supporting Actress statue (the Academy loves a young supporting performance, see: Anna Paquin for The Piano (1993) or Tatum O’Neal in Paper Moon (1973). It’s becoming and interesting awards season and I can’t wait to see how it all plays out.

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