Westerns are nowadays a dying breed. I am not going to say that I am a fan of them as I more or less have mixed feelings about the genre. Yet there are those certain types of westerns, new or old, that have that spark to them. Their stories remain important and some are even remade today to positive results. So following 3:10 to Yuma in 2007 the next modern western I have decided to try was the Coen Brothers remake of True Grit. Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and an academy award nominated child actress for this very film all going on a road trip together? I mean it had me at Jeff Bridges.
The only reason why I never debated about watching this film before was because it was primarily a remake. The John Wayne original, released in 1969, is roughly the same story and it’s always nice to be able to compare remakes with the original to see how different it will be. Whether they change up the story, the characters or the dialogue to fit into the directors own unique style. Now the Coen Brothers are well known at this point in their career, and going into this film with fresh eyes I had a hard time imagining anyone else directing this film. The witty dialogue, the characters, the banter, it all feels like it was a Coen Brothers movie. That is how effective the Coen Brothers were in making this movie their own, especially with the all-star cast they gathered.
The story revolves around a young girl, Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), wanting to hunt down her father’s killer. She then hires a thumper by the name of Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) and enters into an unlikely alliance with a Texas Ranger named LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) in order to see justice served. To me right there you have a fun cast to tag along with and one of Jeff Bridges best roles to date. The story never stops moving forward, only allowing for the occasional detour for some good scenes of comedy like Mattie hassling a local merchant or a weird mountain doctor in a bear skin wondering if someone is dead. It is the weird type of comedic beats that make a Coen Brothers film so enjoyable, the dry humour in True Grit allows for a fair amount. It never screeches to a halt for the comedy to happen and it more happens like a matter of fact than anything extravagant.
This is just a tale of three people hunting for a killer and the journey each character goes on is quite humbling and exciting to watch. Even then almost nothing in the film could be considered exciting until the latter half, so the film is almost carried on these three performances and it is charming to see each relationship blossom. Jeff Bridges plays a tired old man who is drunk all of the time and has too much pride to allow him to see others as helpful. That of course forces him to respect and potentially learn to love (as a daughter) Mattie Ross. Her determination is endearing and it’s noticeable through Bridges’ performance how much they care for one another over the time. Then of course you have LaBoeuf who is full of himself and played exceptionally well by Damon in one of my favourite performances of his. He creates this great air of pride that is too comedic to be true and is often taken off-guard by Mattie Ross’ determination and fights with Cogburn’s unprofessional appearance. The lynch pin of the three however is Mattie Ross, who never is disinteresting throughout the entire film as she showcases this determined, business savvy, and innocent look at this western world. Hailee Steinfeld truly gives one of the better breakout performances of a child star I have seen, acting on the same level as two amazing actors.
As a western, it captures the era quite effectively all the way down to the chaps that Damon wore. The racism, the love of the spectacle of death, the outlaws, and the treatment of women. Everything it portrayed and how it proceeded to defy it was effectively done. The outlaw who doesn’t kill on sight, the scumbag villain who wasn’t as villainous as he thought he was, the girl who forces two men forward, each of these elements defy traditional western elements or at least the ones that I have seen. What we get from this film is a simple story, but that simple story deconstructs many of the stereotypes we feel towards western films. It creates dynamic relationships, a grey mentality towards its characters, and in the end the finale is something I didn’t expect.
For someone who isn’t too keen on the western genre, True Grit did feel like a breath of fresh air in the classic sense. The predictability of some classics can be a bit tiring with the cliches especially if you never grew up with them. It is why films like High Noon interested more because it played with the typical conventions. True Grit feels the same, but not in the sense that it is entirely new since it is a classic story. Instead it is a western that, like Hell or High Water, never needed to feel like a western or defy conventions even though it is there. These are the types of films I can enjoy with those who may not enjoy a western, ones that can grab a larger audience probably thanks to the Coen Brothers unique style.
It is not only one of the better non-traditional westerns I have seen, up there with High Noon, it creates a story and characters worth investing in. True Grit can get you emotionally wrapped up in its simple tale, with simple goals but complex characters for the genre. It is not Revenant levels of beauty in its scenery, but they did have a beautiful eye for cinematography in moments from the darkest hole to the great shootouts. An understated soundtrack that adds the hint of western this film needs to remind me that I am watching one. It defied my expectations, and while it was slow in moments and Josh Brolin’s villain wasn’t given too much to really go off of I still felt like it was a solid film. It is an actor’s film, one drenched in an era cinema tends to forget nowadays. Up there with films like Hell or High Water and 3:10 to Yuma for me, True Grit is one of the modern westerns worth watching for its effective storytelling and characters.
Well I am now finally kicking away this bout of sickness and getting back into the swing of things. I am hoping to continue the string of content I was one days ago, but it all depends on what grabs my eye and what I have planned next for this blog. I’m hoping to have some different things coming up this summer and hopefully it will give me some time to keep up to date with the amount of content I want to come out more regularly. I just might do a look at 3:10 to Yuma next to give thanks to a film that opened my eyes to the genre.
Have you seen True Grit, the Jeff Bridges version or the original John Wayne? What did you think about it? Feel free to leave a comment down below and don’t forget to have yourself a great day!