Plain and simple, the Coen Brothers have a thing for pulling off excellent films that make ample use of the great American outdoors. Fargo, The Big Lebowski and No Country For Old Men are noteworthy entries in that reputable canon. Much like their faithful rendering of Cormac McCarthy’s Country, with the western True Grit the directing duo have fashioned a winning film told with gripping storytelling, frequently beautiful cinematography and some of the best acting to grace the screen this year.
Much has been made of the top-notch cast, led by the diligent Oscar winner Jeff Bridges, who forms an extraordinary ensemble with Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper and lavishly talented newcomer Hailee Steinfeld to solidly anchor the film as the Coens weave a riveting tale of honour and resilience, spun with their trademark blend of thrills, violence and deadpan humour.
Based on the Charles Portis novel set in Arkansas, 14-year-old Mattie Ross (Steinfeld) is on a quest to see the man who killed her father hanged for his crime. With the local law dragging its feet to see justice served, young Ross recruits gritty, gravel-voiced marshall/bounty hunter Reuben ‘Rooster’ Cogburn (Bridges in a brilliant performance) to hunt down the perpetrator, one Tom Chaney (Brolin), who has fled into the wild to join up with a gang of nomadic robbers led by Pepper’s Lucky Ned. Matt Damon co-stars as LaBeef, a Texas ranger also out to capture Chaney.
Briskly paced with memorable dialogue, including some laugh-out-loud funny exchanges, this is a film high in entertainment value.
One of the most nagging thoughts that constantly races through my mind since viewing True Grit: Can Jeff Bridges become the first Actor since Tom Hanks in 1994 to win back-to-back Best Actor Oscars? This year, depending on who you ask, Colin Firth (The King’s Speech) seems to have already won the award, but Bridges’ performance as the ruthless yet completely likeable Cogburn is a revelation. He achieves far more in True Grit than he did as the self-destructive musician Bad Blake in Crazy Heart, which secured him the award last year. He might not pull off the back-to-back feat this year, but in my book he’ll always deserve it.
And from one amazing performance to another. As the precocious young heroine, Steinfeld smartly embodies the responsible girl who feverishly tends to her family’s affairs in the wake of her father’s untimely death. For an actress her age, Steinfeld couldn’t have hoped for a finer debut. And for those who have seen the film, it goes without saying that she completely holds her own with those seasoned heavy-hitters. In one particularly telling scene, she verbally reduces Damon’s LaBeef to an insignificant pile of dust.
Little surprise that True Grit has popped up on every meaningful list of the ten best films of 2010. Well-wrought and superbly acted, it boasts all the elements for a triumphant tour-de-force.