What the viewer will get from “True Grit” is something relatively unexpected. The 1969 version has its humorous moments, but they are mostly subtle. Joel and Ethan Coen have delivered an adaptation that is definitely more lighthearted; in fact, “True Grit” is arguably one of their most lighthearted films to date. The unexpectedly consistent banter between Marshall Rooster Cogburn and Texas Ranger LaBoeuf and the sharp tongue of Mattie Ross only add to the charisma of the characters, drawing the audience in. The film is a pleasure to watch, and since the Coen brothers aligned their film closer to Charles Portis’ novel, those who have only seen the John Wayne version have not seen it all.
Mattie Ross(Hailee Steinfeld) is only fourteen years old when her father is murdered at the hands of Tom Chaney(Josh Brolin). Since her mother is stricken with grief and must care for the land along with the rest of the family, Mattie is sent into town to identify the body. While she is there she has another motive: she wants to find out what law enforcement is doing to find Chaney. Finding that the law is overwhelmed and slightly disinterested in her case, she offers Cogburn(Jeff Bridges) one hundred dollars to hunt Chaney down. She chooses Chaney because he appears fearless,and a man who prefers to act first and think second. One night a man appears on the porch of the local boarding house Mattie is staying at. LaBoeuf(Matt Damon) is a Texas Ranger tracking Chaney from Texas, where Chaney shot a state Senator.
Mattie is a quick thinker and a quick talker, and her first conversation with LaBoeuf is amusing as she takes him and the rest of the Rangers in Texas to task for not apprehending Chaney, who she thinks appears dim-witted. This is an incredibly strong role for a young woman, and Steinfeld carries the role well. Mattie is a young lady who could probably argue with any adult and win, but at the same time she is the voice of reason, especially when it comes to the quarreling between Cogburn and LaBoeuf. She is only fourteen, but she carries the maturity of a grown woman. She knows the law well and has great instincts when it comes to human character.
LaBoeuf takes up with Cogburn, and after much reluctance from the male perspective Mattie joins them to hunt for Chaney. Brolin’s screen time as Chaney is brief, and his character isn’t given a lot of weight as it is. Already overlooked is Barry Pepper as Lucky Ned Pepper, an outlaw Mattie’s party inadvertently crosses when they stop for shelter. Pepper gets the same amount of screen time as Brolin, if not a little more, and he’s certainly given more to do with his character. He easily disappears into his character, a man with low morals but at the same time a sense of reason, and belief in certain standards. All the talk has been about Steinfeld, Bridges and Damon, but Pepper holds his own here. Perhaps his name should have been on the poster as well.
“True Grit” is a very entertaining film. If there is one gripe it would have to be in the ending of the film; the finale doesn’t shower the same amount of love on these characters as the rest of the film does. It doesn’t break the film, but it is a shame, because people will love these characters after watching. Whether or not the film is the best of 2010 could be debatable, but there should be no debate on whether or not to buy a ticket.