December 21, 2010


After watching, True Grit, I was left wondering how the project came into existence.  Did Joel Coen turn to his brother Ethan and say, “I feel like creating a western that will become an instant classic,” and Ethan responded, “Yeah, that sounds good.  Let’s do that.”  That exchange wouldn’t surprise me since the Coen Brothers are two filmmakers who consistently operate at a higher level than almost anyone else in Hollywood.  While other filmmakers might be cowed into living in the shadow of the 1969 original which won John Wayne his first and only Oscar, the Coen Brothers have crafted a giant of the genre that crackles with electric dialogue, magnificent performances, Roger Deakins’ stunning cinematography, Carter Burwell’s haunting score, and all the other quality trademarks the Coens are known for.

In a movie filled with breathtaking cinematography, True Grit slowly opens with a gorgeous shot of lights in the shape of a cross before the picture comes into focus and we see a man lying dead on the ground and another man racing away on a horse.  The dead man is the father of 14-year-old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), a determined young woman who seeks to bring her father’s killer, the cowardly Tom Cheney (Josh Brolin), brought to justice.  “Determined”, is actually a poor adjective to describe Mattie.  Imagine if Determined and Tenacious had a baby and then that word baby was pumped full of steroids.


Blesssed with the power to never take “No” for an answer, Mattie seeks out the help of drunken U.S. marshal Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), a man who doesn’t have the reputation as the best marshal, but certainly the meanest.  While Cogburn would like Mattie to go back to her family and let him take care of the matter, Mattie won’t rest until she sees Cheney not only hanged, but hanged for the crime of murdering her father.  That second part becomes a bit of a problem as Cheney is also being tracked by La Beouf (Matt Damon), an inept Texas Ranger who intended to hang Cheney in the Lone Star state for the murder of a senator and the senator’s dog.  The three set out in an uneasy alliance that shifts and develops in unexpected but honest ways.

Unfortunately, my brief synopsis does not do justice to how the Coen Brothers introduce not only their lead characters, but everyone who populates the film.  The Coens conducted a nationwide search to find their Mattie Ross and that search paid off wonderfully with the discovery of Steinfeld.  While some of the dialogue is lifted straight from the Charles Portis novel of the same name, the Coen Brothers have a certain pace to their writing that, when performed correctly, absolutely sings.  Despite her young age, Steinfeld plays the role as if she’d been starring in Coen films for years.  When you see her haggle over the price of horses, you can’t help but marvel at not only her comic timing, but complete confidence.  The character of Mattie could easily become irritatingly precocious, but in the hands of Steinfeld and the Coens, you’re always cheering for her.


The other standout is Bridges.  No one wants to stand in the shadow of John Wayne, but between the two Cogburns, I actually prefer Bridges performance.  While Wayne was good in the original, I believe his Oscar was more of a lifetime achievement award (he deserved to win it for The Searchers).  In the 1969 film, it feels like Wayne is fighting with his own persona to make an authentic character.  Bridges’ Cogburn, on the other hand, comes off as lived-in and authentic.  The drunkenness is sloppier, the delivery is more guttural (Creative Loafing’s Curt Holman brilliantly described it as a “gargle”), and it’s an overall more layered and rewarding performance.  And like the rest of True Grit, it’s also damn funny.

The entire film is a remarkable balancing act.  While the Coens have danced with tropes of the Western in their previous films (the Stranger in The Big Lebowski; the desert vistas of No Country for Old Men), with True Grit they have wholeheartedly embraced the genre with a film that is both easily accessible and yet undeniably their own.  I can’t help but marvel at how they can transition from the dense, difficult ideas presented in their previous film, A Serious Man, to a rousing yet offbeat picture that effortlessly juggles exhilarating shootouts with bizarre encounters like meeting a medicine man in a bear suit offering dental care.  It’s a picture that works on every single level and then makes up a couple new levels to work on as well.

Rating: A


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  • Dustin Mac


  • Tone

    Very psyched about this film.

  • Rooster Cockburn

    Firstly, whats with this new hard to read irritating Captcha?

    Secondly, can’t wait to see this movie. I love westerns. And have never seen one on the big screen (aside from Shanghai Noon)

    But I love the original True Grit, and was worried about a remake of such a classic feelgood western. But by the reviews it sounds fantastic. And even though I have yet to see this new one, I hope and wonder if they will also remake its sequel.. Rooster Cogburn & the Lady ?

    Should anyone that writes for collider get chance to interview any of the cast or crew, could you find out if any plans for the sequel?

  • Tim Irwin

    Loved the film. At the most basic level, it’s just very enjoyable all around. But, like you mentioned, it goes several layers deeper and is fascinating on each of them. Great stuff (wrote a tad about it here:

  • Jeff

    Amazing film and there is no doubt that Jeff Bridges now owns this part. He is the actor’s actor and Hailee Steinfeld is absolutely breathtaking. I didn’t fall in love with a little girl, I got into a part and was mesmerized by the character. This, IMHO, is the best film I have seen in 2 or 3 years, and I see a BUNCH of movies.

  • Glenn

    I hope they paid Matt Goldberg a bunch of money to pass this truly lousy movie off as something other than the easy payday tripe that it is. Dustin and Tone are sure to be disappointed when they finally come to grips with the fact that THIS version of True Grit is not really an action movie, and only barely a Western.
    Jeff and Matt faxed in their performances, and I was actually glad when the Coens summarily put me out of my misery by ending it with 30 seconds notice. I would have said “spoiler alert”, but the movie was already rotten an hour earlier. If I ever meet Jeff Bridges, he better have $9 in his wallet.

  • Glenn

    Call it Kismit or whatever, but as soon as I finished writing my review, the True Grit trailer came on TV. I swear to you that the trailer is twice as good as the actual movie. Just watch the trailer a couple of times and let your imagination do the rest. Maybe the commercial was TOO good.?…

  • Double J

    I agree with Glenn’s assessment. The movie was incredibly disappointing to me. I give it a D-.

  • Rick Chung

    TRUE GRIT Abides ::

  • Francine

    We just came back from seeing this movie. I was looking forward to it, but was so disappointed. It is hard to understand when Jeff Bridges speaks. Very good actors in the wrong movie….

    If it was to do again, I would not have spent the money to view it.

  • Quasimodo1

    Just watched the movie tonight. Matt Goldberg’s review is right on target. It’s better than the original.

  • rooster

    Some of the viewers should not smoke crack before going to the movies. This movie is a instant classic . A much better movie then the original. Witch in it self was a good movie . But this is a completely different movie. All of us western movie lovers need to support the new westerns that come out. I would love to see more remakes. this movie and 310 to Yuma remake both was better than the movie they was based on . Rooster sass 86029

  • dan evans

    where on earth does the colen brothers think they know how to make a good western movie .i would rate this a 2 another thing the movie had a lot of dark scenes in it .was like they did not know how to film it and so they made it dark,now the reason a lot of people went to see the remake of true grit was they knew the true grit john wayne stered in was good and they wanted to see a new western movie that they thought would be good how fooled they were.the movie 310 to yuma was a bad remake too .i have hundreds of westerns movies from the 1930 to now and some of them were bad too and so were the actors jeff bridges is a good actor but in true grit he looks like rooster from a farm and not the best picture of the year.

    • rooster

      If you watch movies from the 30s no wonder you did not like this movie . Or 310 to Yuma witch was a great remake . movie from the 30s wen you was a boy. Was only 5 cents to watch because they sucked !!! You must be to dam old to watch a good western in color.You old eyes dont see so good any more . The acting is beyond your comprehension. And your slow old brain cant keep up any longer. You need to ask the nursing home to take all of you to a slow old rerun you can keep up with.

    • Lonesome Dove

      I totally agree with you. 310 to Yuma was really a bad remake. I’ve seen video trailers of True Grit 2010 and feel that it looks like Italian westerns so it means the makers do not know how to make a real classic western. I think many reviewers today never see much good western movies in the past.
      Anyway, I will watch this movie if it comes to my country.

  • ziggy2dope

    Nice review–I like hearing a bit of perspective about the original (I’ve never seen it). You’re the first reviewer I’ve read who said Bridges>Wayne, which doesn’t surprise me, he’s an incredible actor. This guy’s review has some interesting observations as well:

  • Jim

    I was looking forward to seeing this movie but sad to say it was without question the worst remake I have ever seen. This movie is not in the same class as the original. Personally I wouldnt give 2 cents to see this movie a second time.

  • tony douglas

    The original True Grit is a real classic. This new version sucks.
    Depressing soundtrack, similar story, but not made with the glory of the John Wayne movie.
    Original movie was much more entertaining. I went to see it about a dozen times. I watched the new one once, and that was enough.
    Thank God it didn’t buy the dvd.

  • bill k

    I watched the movie with an open mind. I LOVE the original. I don’t think this version of the movie captured the heart of the movie watcher at all in comparison. I am not giving this new version any criticism. I am just saying is doesn’t even compare with the the original in any way, shape, or form. I guess it is true. some things are best left alone.

  • Drew F

    I thought it was very lackluster from the beginning. If it were an original and I have never seen the original I might feel differently. Too be honest I can’t figure out why it never grabbed me. I just know I couldn’t wait until it was over.