True Grit was a 1969 John Wayne/Glen Campbell classic western. To this day when someone speaks the name Rooster Cogburn, you think of Wayne with the eye patch riding his horse with guns blazin’. Any type of remake would be tough to do and would need A-list talent to do it. How about some Academy Award winning talent?
The 2010 True Grit remake is written and directed by Ethan and Joel Coen, the men behind No Country for Old Men, Fargo, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, The Big Lebowski, yeah those guys. And who’s going to replace Glen Campbell? How about Cambridge, MA’s/Academy Award winner Matt Damon (Good Will Hunting). But come on John Wayne’s Rooster is iconic, you need someone big for that. How about Jeff Bridges, the most recent Oscar winner for Best Actor (Crazy Heart), that do anything for ya?
True Grit starts off with the murder of 14 year old Mattie’s father. She heads into town to hire someone to track down Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), the man who killed her father. She’s told the best man for the job is Marshall Rooster Cogburn who is in court after killing two men and shooting another. He claims it was self defense, but the self defense claim has added up to him killing 23 men since becoming marshall. A hard drinking, hard smoking man, Rooster at first wants nothing to do with Mattie (Hailee Steinfeld), but decides a $100 reward is a good enough job. He takes $50 up front and tells her to meet him the next morning. He decides Indian territory isn’t a place for a young girl so he heads out on his own.
Mattie is met by Texas Ranger Labeuf (Damon) who has been trying to hunt down Chaney himself for months after he shot a senator in Texas. Labeuf wants to bring Chaney to justice in Texas, but Mattie wants him to hang for killing her father. After realizing Rooster left without her, Mattie leaves for the Indian Territory and eventually runs into both Rooster and Labeuf who are now working together because the reward for the Texas murder is more money. Unwillingly, both men decide Mattie should stay with them.
After traveling far and losing Chaney’s trail, Labeuf goes out on his own and Rooster wants to give up. Mattie, while getting water, is spotted by Chaney and is taken. When Chaney’s leader Lucky Ned Pepper (played by Barry Pepper) realizes the girl is with Rooster, he makes a trade with Rooster. He will let the girl go, but first Rooster must meet him face to face. It is Rooster against Lucky Ned and three other men while Mattie is held against her will with the man who shot her father. Is justice served?
The True Grit remake borrows heavily on the original, same basic storyline, same characters and their personalities, but the 2010 version holds its own quite well. Bridges plays an aging, flawed almost anti-hero to perfection yet again and no he’s not just “The Dude” in a cowboy hat. He has great chemistry with relative new comer Steinfeld who brings Mattie to life amazingly. Her dealings with men three times her age is funny and believable and not as annoying as other young characters can be. Damon’s Labeuf is comical especially his lisp after biting his tongue and it won’t be surprising if we see Matt in more Coen Bros. movies to come.
Every few years Hollywood puts out a really good western to show us how good they can be. 3:10 to Yuma, Tombstone, Unforgiven remind us that westerns helped build the movie industry and can still be blockbusters today. True Grit easily fits into that class. Well made, well performed and very entertaining, True Grit can be enjoyed even by those who aren’t fans of the cowboys/western genre. How the Golden Globes passed up True Grit for any nominations is shocking to say the least. Its picked up some SAG Awards nods, but the Oscars should be calling, its one of the year’s top films.
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