Starring: Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin
Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen
They got it right this time. Remakes are usually frowned upon by critics and the general public, and for good reason: they have a tendency to either fall short of the standards set by the original films or are just seen as a waste of a film altogether. However, there are occasions when they turn out well, especially when the said original film needed to improvements in the first place (http://docuniverse.blogspot.com/2010/12/true-grit-1969.html). So how did the Coen Brothers manage to take on a western made famous by John Wayne himself? Like this:
Once again based upon the book of the same name by Charles Portis, the story starts out with a young girl named Mattie, who's father is murdered and she goes on a quest to find his killer. The character of Mattie as played by Kim Darby was the part of the original movie that I really hated above anything else, but the Coen brothers thankfully helped change that around. First of all, she actually looks like a real girl from the 1870s, as opposed to a weird Justin Bieber clone. Secondly, the actress who plays her, Hailee Steinfeld, can actually, well, act. She comes across as a girl who is tough and certainly able to hold her own. While she has a bit of a self-righteous streak and a prim-and-proper manner that can turn people off, Steinfield is still able to reveal Mattie's warmth and personal conviction, making her very likable character. This is in stark contrast to Darby, who acted more like a monotone robot trying to give the illusion that she was tough but ends up looking like a deer in headlights.
Anyway, Mattie eventually comes across a one-eyed U.S. Marshall named Rooster Cogburn, played by Jeff Bridges, whom she asks to help her capture her father's killer. Bridges does a great job as Cogburn; he is gruff and is not afraid to take on the bad guys when necessary, even if some complain that he over does it. At the same time, he is shown to have some flaws due to his age and alcoholism. Fans of "The Big Lebowski" may notice some hints of The Dude when Cogburn is a little...disoriented, but as much as I love that character, I think Bridges and the Coens were smart not to try and force their creation into this particular film; it would not have be right. My complaint is that his accent is so thick that I could not understand about half of the stuff he said, but I am willing to give that a pass because I get the idea of what he is saying and I guess that it makes Cogburn more memorable.
The rest of the story is pretty straight forward: the two of them, along with a Texas Ranger named La Boeuf (Matt Damon), begin their journey as they come across a pair of outlaws, a hanged body, and a man dressed as a bear. Okay, it is not entirely straight forward, but come on, its the Coen brothers, you got to expect a little weirdness! Anyway, generally speaking, the film moves at a productive paste and keeps you intrigued to until the end, using both action, humor, and good dialogue.
I did not have to much to complain about, but if I have to nit-pick...There is a part at the beginning when Mattie is arguing with the man her father had sold horses to before his murder. I disliked this part in the original movie because I thought that it was a pointless scene that did not need to be done on-camera, and while the Coen brothers make it a tad better, it still seems like a time waster. The film also has a tendency to marginalize its supporting characters. Damon does well with his role, but he is mostly absent from the picture; he just has his little bouts with Bridges (which are pretty amusing), but then gets annoyed and leaves not once but twice. James Brolin is good as the murderer Tom Chaney, someone who is somewhat stupid but can be intimidating when he needs to be. However, he is on screen for barely five minutes and his impact is lacking. A nearly unrecognizable Barry Pepper also does a decent job as the outlaw Ned Pepper, but is also underused. To be fair, these characters were not on-screen that much more in the 1969 version, but I guess they were so unimpressive in that version that it kind of did not matter. By making them interesting, the Coen's have been hurt by their own success. Another part of this may have to do with the 110 running time, about 18 minutes shorter than the original. Overall, I am glad this was shorter because it made the movie more concise, but it was not without its draw backs.
Despite that admittedly bloated paragraph I just wrote, it is still a very enjoyable film that shows that not all remakes turn out bad, and I recommend it.