True Grit
Tell me I look good in this hat!

Theatrical Release Date: 12/22/2010
Directors: Ethan & Joel Coen
Cast: Hailee Steinfeld, Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper


One-eyed Willy? Never heard of him.

After hearing that the Coen brothers were writing and directing a remake of “True Grit”, I had some initial cynical thoughts and the trailers didn’t ease my concerns.

One, why remake it at all? – They’ve said it’s based on the book and not the John Wayne film (for which The Duke won his only Oscar). However, the 1969 original wasn’t too far from the source material so this distinction doesn’t affect me one way or the other.

Two, what’s up with Jeff Bridges’ voice? – He does his best “Slingblade” impersonation the entire time and I kept waiting for him to order some ‘French fried potaters’.

And three, will Academy Awards voters put aside the fact that this is a remake and still propel it to a Best Picture nomination because it’s the Coen brothers (who more often than not make great films)? – That decision was made easier for them because this remake shouldn’t make anyone’s Top 10 list … not unless there’s a special inclusion rule for competently made Westerns, which is the most praise I’ll give the overall effort.

Now, that’s not to say there aren’t good elements in this production. The best of which is a breakout role for Hailee Steinfeld, playing a 14 year-old girl seeking to hire a Marshal (Bridges) to track down her father’s killer (James Brolin). Steinfeld plays her role just right, utilizing as much bravado as she can muster in an adult male dominated setting while still showing us that understandable trepidation one expects from a teenager in this situation.

Her performance is so good that the people behind the film are hoping to nominate young Ms. Steinfeld … but in the supporting actress category. However, seeing as she’s in 85% of the film and has more lines than anyone else, that transparent attempt to avoid the stacked Best Actress category is laughable. Actually, I take that back – it’s sad. Sad because her performance is excellent and possibly worthy of a nomination for Best Actress. While I just left her off when nominating that category in this year’s San Diego Film Critics Society awards, I’m sure that voters who don’t skew for so many independent films would seriously consider her … in the proper category.

Matt Damon does fine here as well, playing a Texas Ranger named LaBoeuf (pronounced “La Beef”, which isn’t to be confused with LaBeouf and I believe is pig latin for “La Douche”). Damon’s defensiveness to Bridges’ barbs about the Rangers adds some much needed levity to an otherwise stoic setup and it’s simply nice to hear people talk in their normal voices as opposed to Bridges’ graveled vocal misstep.

Those who get shorted in the deal are the bad guys, Brolin and Barry Pepper. Both were interesting and added to the film’s ensemble nicely but aren’t in enough of the film to make that much of a difference (though at least this may be a byproduct of the book and not so much the Coens’ fault).

The bottom line is that the production values and basic film making techniques are high, thanks to the Coen brothers being such students of cinema history. However, “True Grit” simply fails to be very interesting and simply plods along from beginning to end, getting a 3 out of 5. Good Western remakes can be done (“3:10 to Yuma“) but only when those making them add something new to the production, which didn’t happen in this case and only the most hardcore fans of the genre will find much more to like here.

3 out of 5