My first reaction on hearing months ago that there was a remake of True Grit coming out was “Why?” The original is a classic, John Wayne at the top of his game, winning the Best Oscar for the only time in his illustrious career, accolades abound. Why would you remake that? Ten seconds later I said “Oh..I have to see that.” What changed my mind? Two things. The first was that the film was produced and directed by the Coen Brothers. I don’t think I can name a picture they have done that I didn’t like. The second was the fact that Jeff Bridges was playing Rooster Cogburn. When I read that he was playing this part I needed to see how he would do with this role. I’ll get to my reaction to Jeff Bridges in a moment.
The film centers around the story of Mattie Ross, a 14 year old girl who is charged with settling her fathers affairs after he has been gunned down by an outlaw. The local law is ambivilent about going after the killer who has fled into the Indian territory. Deciding to get her revenge Mattie sets out to hire the meanest and most tenacious man she can find, Rooster Cogburn. Mattie is played wonderfully by Hailee Steinfeld. Forget Cogburn, Steinfeld’s Ross has all the Grit she needs. When she is dismissed by Cogburn and left behind as he sets off to find the outlaw Chaney she swims across the river on her horse to catch up to him and force him to let her tag along. She pushes on at every turn when most would have abandoned their quest in the face of great hardships.
Josh Brolin plays Chaney. I recently savaged his performance in Jonah Hex, but he more than makes up for that performance here with a brief appearance on screen at the end of the movie. He is his usual amazing self playing the character as both menancing and pathetic which is quite an acting feat.
Now we come to Jeff Bridges and his portrayal of Rooster Cogburn. While I think John Wayne did an excellent job with this role, Jeff Bridges blows away that performance. From his appearance to his voice he is Rooster Cogburn, a drunk, a slob, and a ruthless killer in the name of the law. We first meet him in a court room as he testifies about a recent gunfight he had while apprehending outlaws. He growls his answers and barks out snarky responses like “Well I always go backwards when I’m backing up” when asked what direction he was heading while backing a way from an axe weilding assailant. He dismisses Mattie Ross the first time they meet and is only moved to go after Chaney by the sight of the reward money. He tries to leave her behind but she will not be deterred. Along the trail he rambles on about his past life, ranging from the mundane stories about former marriages to the startling revelation that he was once a bank robber. After the mission hits the rocks, so does Rooster. Falling into drinking, he eventually gives up on the quest altogether though events force him to take it back up and ultimately his attachment to Mattie is so strong that he drives himself to near death on her behalf. Though it all Bridges turns in a masterful performance that will undoubtedly lead to a Best Actor Nomination.
I had read various critiques of the ending of this film, but having watched the origional picture I didn’t find it all that jarring or confusing. The story is about Mattie and her adventure. What happens afterwards isn’t really the point. She goes on with her life and we ultimately lose contact with everyone else in the story, because it is her story those characters are only important because of how they affect her. It is a story about a fantastic adventure of a young girl, one that changes her profoundly for the rest of her life, and changes Rooster as well. It won’t change the life of the audience, but it was never meant to do so. It is meant to bet a witty, intelligent western adventure. It achieves what it sets out to do and does so quite well. This will end up in my DVD collection as soon as it is released.