Not to age my dad or anything, but westerns are a very generational thing. Heck, the last time I really watched a western by choice was when I became obsessed with one scene in McLintock! after accidentally opening the gifted VHS copy meant for my dad on Christmas as a child. And in all honesty, if it wasn’t for last year’s ridiculously addictive video game Red Dead Redemption, the trailer for True Grit probably wouldn’t have peaked my interest as it did. Well, it may not have all the violence, horse racing and addictive Oregon Trail hunting, but True Grit still manages to reach a larger audience than just those who were alive for the John Wayne original.
The looser laws of the Wild West create the perfect setting for a classic story of good old revenge, which is exactly what we have here. The difference is this story’s point of view doesn’t come from a hardened, stiff-jawed gunslinger. As a 14-year-old Mattie Ross may not be able to stay standing after firing a pistol, but she is just as strong willed as the men she comes across, with the determination necessary to hunt down the man who guiltlessly gunned down her father. With that said she is still smart enough to know better than to go galloping off into unsettled territory without the help of someone a little more skilled and better equipped for the task at hand. With a handful of choices, Mattie settles on the rough around the edges US marshal Rooster Cogburn, a man who is just as likely to pull a gun on a man as he is to be drunk while doing so.
Though it begins with a murder, True Grit starts at the saunter that it will comfortably sink into throughout the better part of the film. This easy pace may leave many action fans itching for the moments when bullets will fly, and though they do occur they remain of lesser importance. Instead the Coen Bros. script takes front and center, allowing the dialog to naturally flow between the characters as they make their way across miles and miles of trail. Not everything said is important to the story, but the banter and surprising amount of humor exchanged between every character breathes a certain amount of life into this world that cannot be matched by the high-octane action films.
An amazing script like this calls for actors that are more than capable of further fleshing out the already well-written characters, and the casting does not disappoint. As Cogburn, Jeff Bridges embodies the harsh realities of law enforcement in a world of lawlessness. His reputation is as rough as his gravelly voice, yet somehow Bridges is able to create a man with a gooey center in the way that he puts up with and protects the teenage girl who forcefully placed herself at his side. In addition to this aspect of the law, Matt Damon balances out Bridges shoot first, ask questions later enforcement with his portrayal of LaBoeuf, a Texas Ranger who has been on the trail of the murderer for a while now. Because of his presentational demeanor and idealized beliefs about what he does for a living, these two older gentlemen clash more often than not in competitions of words, tests, etc, creating a childish rivalry that matches the age of the youngest member of their group. As the heart of the story, Hailee Steinfeld is given a lot to do in the company of these experienced actors, and though this is her first major role you would never guess based on her performance in comparison to those she shares the screen with.
Though the smaller amount of action never feels that noticeable thanks to the performances and well written characters and dialog, the ending contains a really abrupt, blink-and-its gone moment that does not quite match the amount of time dedicated to getting there. This is not to say anticlimactically so considering the pace of the rest of the film, I had just hoped for something more. Then again, it’s the journey that matters anyway.
Final Grade: B+