It’s a breath of fresh air to see that a real Western film can still be created and enjoyed in this decade—a good Western film. Or maybe a pretty good Western film (I’m a generous person). That’s the most positive word to describe Ethan and Joel Coen’s latest directorial and screenwriting pursuit, True Grit, based on the Charles Portis novel.
Sharp-tongued and determined 14-year-old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) is distraught over the murder of her father, but apparently, living in the 19th-century Southern U.S. makes it a little easier for her to seek revenge on the killer. However, she can’t make the trip into Indian territory alone, so she “employs” a top U.S. marshal, Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to assist her in her manhunt. A Texas Ranger, LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), happens to be on the hunt for the same man, named Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), for a separate murder. The duo becomes a trio, and the two males especially clash with their differing personalities and ways of dealing with the tribulations that they confront on the trail. LaBoeuf comes off as serious and stone wall-minded while Cogburn is a drunken and frequently offensive sloth. However, Mattie never loses sight of the mission at hand, weathering through snowstorms, the men’s quarrels, and the enemies they stumble upon–and she’ll finish it alone if she has to.
Aside from the ‘true grit’ of the no-holds-barred Western violence (Which is pretty heavy for a PG-13 film) and nostalgic Wild West scenery, even grittier are the performances by the cast. They probably carry most of this film and make it as entertaining as it is. Damon is virtually unrecognizable in cowboy hat-covered shaggy hair and a mustache that’s as thick as his faux Texan accent, but he’s a natural and brings a different side of himself to his line of work. Although it’s not meant to be a funny film, Bridges definitely brings in laughter as the tough-talkin’ marshal with his snarky and borderline rotten attitude, though by the end of the movie, he softens up, thus illuminating himself as having another facet to the character. However, with all respect to Bridges, most impressive was Steinfeld’s performance. Also 14 in real life, she believably portrays Mattie as strong, mature, and level-headed. Truly one of the breakout stars of the past year, and if the pundits are correct, she could be one of the youngest women to land in the Best Actress or Best Supporting Actress field of Oscar nominees this February.
But for this fairly impressive movie, the flawed execution of more than the first half of the screenplay and the lack of emotion that I felt during the entire two hours keeps me from saying anything more than lukewarm. One minute, a crack by Cogburn could stifle a laugh out of me. Then the next, I found myself wanting to doze off for a few minutes. Fodder scenes get to be much at times. There’s a significant lack of development in telling a thorough and meaningful story and you don’t want anything more for the trio other than for all of them to survive. There’s some success in invoking small sentimental feelings in the last ten or so minutes, but you still won’t leave the theater with dents in your heart. The story is a great idea, yet even a few of the parts that were supposed to be climatic didn’t feel so.
If you want a slice of something new in your movie diet this awards season, True Grit is worth your while. The raw Western feel and admirable cast performances make it pretty fun and exciting. However, only expect to be entertained by the film and impressed with a few of the aspects, and not much else. Eh, I’ll give it that extra .5 only for Bridges and Steinfeld.
OVERALL SCORE: 7.5/10