True Grit is an ambitious attempt to bring the western genre back to the big screen. A remake of a John Wayne classic, it tells the tale of (sometimes annoyingly) precocious 14 year-old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), seeking revenge upon the man who killed her father.
Surprising all in Fort Smith with her business acumen and her hard-nosed negotiating, she recruits Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), a drunken, hard-bitten marshall known for his “grit”, and demands that she accompany him on his mission. They are joined by Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), who is pursuing the same man for crimes in his own state.
In some ways it’s played as an odd couple movie – or perhaps odd-menage-a-trois? – with the two men constantly bickering about the correct way to do things, but both agreed they don’t want to babysit young Mattie.
Advances in modern film-making, mean the film can really bring to life some of the dirty, degraded aspects of the wild-west only hinted at in older movies. The snow drifted landscape showing the bleak, if beautiful, desolation faced by the old frontiersmen, and some wondeful camera work highlighting the filth that some of these men lived in. Particularly effective is a scene near the end, where one villain “lucky” Ned Pepper, is shouting at the marshall, spittle flying out of his mouth onto the camera lens below.
The film drags a little in pace, although there are some comic moments, mostly provided by the boastful LaBoeuf or the drunkeness of Cogburn’s character. It picks up speed in the final third, building to a tense finale, the trusty final showdown where, we hope, the bad guys die and the good guys ride off into the sunset. It isn’t until the last half hour that we finally come face to face with the killer, Tom Chaney (played by a wonderfully slurred Josh Brolin), which is a shame, as he is a character that could do with a little more fleshing out.
It definitely is a gripping tale, if a little overlong. A nice twist is having a teenage girl as the protagonist in a genre usually noted for its overblown machismo. All in all, a well written and well produced film, not film of the year but well worth a look.
True Grit is on general release from February 11.