The Coen brothers adaptation of the 1968 novel was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
Director: Joel and Ethan Coen Rating: PG-13 Studio: Paramount
This is the second film adaptation of Charles Portis’s 1968 novel of the same name, and both movie versions were showered with awards and nominations. Back in 1969 John Wayne won his first and only Academy Award playing crusty U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn, and now Jeff Bridges ably dons the eye patch and speaks in the marble-mouthed manner of this iconic Western character.
Hailee Steinfeld beat out a reported 15,000 other actresses for the lead role of Mattie Ross, a 14-year-old girl hell-bent on avenging the death of her father, who was killed by Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) for two pieces of gold and a horse. She seeks out and hires Rooster because she hears that he has “true grit,” and he does…along with an unconventional approach to just about everything. The boozy Marshal reluctantly agrees to help Mattie for $100 but tries to leave the girl behind and sets off with hardened Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) to find Chaney without her. Mattie proves she has more grit than any of them by forcing her horse to swim across a deep river with her on its back to catch up with the two lawmen. There are plenty of standoffs, shootouts and all the tough talking you would expect from a classic Western as Mattie closes in on Chaney. Retribution comes at a high price, though…for all of them.
If you’re looking for signature Coen brothers weirdness in this remake, perish the thought. What we have here is a faithful, straightforward interpretation of the novel that features outstanding performance by all involved—especially Steinfeld and Bridges—and expert filmmaking by the Coens. The major difference between the Coen brothers’ version is that it adds a flash-forward scene at the end with Mattie at age 40 setting out to reunite with Cogburn after several decades. True Grit version 2.0 is easily the best Western that Hollywood has put out in years if not decades, so fans of the genre will want to saddle up to this rare remake that—with all due respect to Wayne and his Oscar-winning performance—might actually be superior to the 1969 classic in many ways.
Best extras: Both the DVD and Blu-ray contain “Behind the Scenes with Mattie Ross,” “Outfitting the Old West: Buckskins, Chaps and Cowboy Hats,” “Re-creating Fort Smith” and “The Cast;” the BD exclusives are “Colts, Winchesters & Remingtons: The Guns of a Post-Civil War Western,” “Charles Portis—The Greatest Writer You’ve Never Heard Of…” and “The Cinematography of True Grit.