A tough U.S. Marshal helps a stubborn young woman track down her father's murderer.
True Grit, the Coen Brothers’ remake of the 1969 John Wayne Western, suffers from one major problem. They appear to have cast my father in the lead role.
Of course, this isn’t a unique problem; it happened with The Big Lebowski and Crazy Heart too. You see, as a rollie-smoking, cheek-chewing, phlegm-coughing, grey-haired man in dirty underwear and ratty beard, Jeff Bridges manages to play a perfect simulacrum of my father in most of his later films.
So, while I try to analyse this latest slice of wild western wanderings, bear in mind that I spent much of the film wondering why my father had gone all the way to the woods and prairies of Texas and how he going to get back in time for work on Monday.
True Grit begins, and ends, with the narration of a young woman, Mattie Ross; a straight-talking, sharp-shooting, fearless and yet chronically naïve daughter, who has left her mother and family to seek revenge on Tom Cheney, the man who murdered her father. With nothing but a clasp of ponies and good lawyer, Ross manages to get together enough money and equipment to mount a search for the rotten, filthy scoundrel who shot her dad in the back. There’s only one problem; she knows diddly squat about tracking, hunting and bringing in your man.
Which is where my father, I mean U.S. Marshal Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogburn comes in. Rooster isn’t a natural companion for a fourteen-year-old living in Victorian Texas; he smokes, he swears, he’s selfish and he drinks whisky until he can barely stand up straight, let alone shoot straight.
And yet, the relationship that builds up between the two is poignant and funny, when it’s not murderous and disappointing.
Because this is a Coen Brothers film the cast is starrier than a spangled banner; Matt Damon plays the tassled Texan ranger LaBeouf also on the trail of Tom Cheney and Josh Brolin the murderer in question. Hailee Steinfeld, who unlike Ellen Page in Juno actually is 14 this year, is brilliant as the young Maddie Ross and Barry Pepper does a fine turn as the furry-legged ‘Lucky’ Ned Pepper.
If you like your westerns funny, romping and full of brilliantly surreal moments – a mystical bear riding a horse springs to mind – then you will thoroughly enjoy True Grit. If it’s Sergio Leone-style intensity and soul-searching scores that you’re after, then perhaps not.