Coen Brothers go West with True Grit

— Steven Lawrence contributed with this article

The Coen Brothers’ go West in their excellent adaption of the Charles Portis novel.
Although there has already been a much acclaimed adaption of Portis’ novel starring the
formidable John Wayne, that he won 1970’s Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading
Role. However, the Coen Brothers admitted that the film is based far more on the novel
than the 1969 adaption.

What is clear from the very start is that “True Grit” is a far more austere, and more earnest than the 1969 version. It’s almost a shame that the Coen Brothers version will garner so much comparison between their adaption and the version prior; as the film comes fiercely alive on its own merit.


Jeff Bridges plays the merciless Marshall, Rooster Cogburn. Image: Paramount Pictures

The Coen Brothers apply their own stylistic direction onto the adaption too, as the Coens’ have found that the stark land and rhythmic vocabulary chimes to their own exuberance to coexist with heartfelt dialogue, plot, and eccentricity of character within the barren American terrain.

The Coens’ provide Portis’ narrative with the same ‘Grit’ that attracts young Mattie Ross to the rogue Cogburn. The majority of the towns community are loquacious, whether its those about to hang from the gallows or those like Ross who arrive in the town seeking justice.

Jeff Bridges stars as Reuben ‘Rooster’ Cogburn, a hardened, intoxicated US Marshall hired by Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) a 14-year-old girl looking to requite the ruthless death of her father at the hands of brooding outlaw Tom Chaney played by Josh Brolin.

Steinfeld’s performance as Mattie Ross is something to behold, who provides the vivaciousness of youth that refuses to be intimidated by circumstance. The determination of Mattie allows for Steinfeld to reflect this in a precocious portrayal of wisdom beyond her years with the subtlety that she’s still only a young girl. Ignoring Cogburn’s ill-mannered nature and dissuasion, Ross accompanies Cogburn in the beginning of a unconventional
friendship.

Bridges’ Cogburn is outstanding as he displays a far more grizzled portrayal of Portis’ Cogburn than that of John Wayne’s. A voice immersed in drink and tobacco, with a cycloptic appearance with a subdued astuteness.

As Mattie hires him, to locate Chaney on a bounty in Native American territory, they travel with the idealistic LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) a Texas Ranger on the hunt for Chaney. As Matt Damon delivers LaBoeuf with an understated excellence as the character grows from ridicule to reverence.

Moreover, cinematographer Roger Deakins’s stunning depiction of the West alone offers biblical binaries of retribution and redemption. As it allows the Coens, along with a wonderful cast to illustrate a callous world to which everyone has endeavoured to sculpt their own destiny and ‘Grit’. Which can will also echo effectively with a modern audience.

“True Grit” is certainly a sensational piece of film. The Coen Brothers have achieved a
Western that has integrated the majestic with the worldly, that bristles with sheer wit,
sentiment, and pleasure.

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