Review: True Grit

Though it is their first actual western, strictly speaking the Coens don't seem to be going anywhere new with this reimagining of the classic True Grit.

They've adapted books (No Country For Old Men) and they've done remakes (The Ladykillers) before and this is both; another version of the Charles Portis novel that was made into a John Wayne western in the late 1960s.

It has something in common with a much earlier film, Miller's Crossing, their period gangster movie, as it is filled with elegantly costumed men of violence using ornate dialogue.

Almost everybody is verbose here, whether they are condemned men on the gallows or the formidably strong-willed and self-assured 14-year-old girl Mattie ross (Hailee Steinfeld), who arrives in town to engage the services of the toughest federal marshal around. This proves to be hard-drinking rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), who reluctantly agrees to her requests to hunt down the man who murdered her father.

Even by Coen movie standards, it is a fantastically assured piece of film-making. They never send a film out with as much as a hair out of place. however strong the subject, however gifted the performers, they can tweak them and get that little bit extra out of them.

But there is something new at work here. unlike previous movies, True Grit has not just been well received by reviewers, it's also been well attended by the public. Jeff Bridges would have been expecting Tron Legacy to be his hit film this last Christmas season but True Grit is almost matching it in the States.

The film comes with a producing credit for Steven Spielberg and the realisation that these maverick talents are now at the very heart of the industry.

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Mattie and Cogburn's pursuit of vengeance across the cold and wintry terrain seems destined to conclude in some kind of bleak irony, as is the Coens way. But – spoiler alert – in its third act the film becomes an oddly conventional celebration of heroism. As a result, viewers who were thrilled by the inscrutable dark wonders of No Country or A Serious Man may find themselves merely impressed by their latest film.

True Grit (15)

Director: Joel and Ethan Coen

With: Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin and Barry Pepper

Length: 110 mins