by Rick Grant
After viewing this exemplary film, it didn’t take me long to vote it my number one movie of the year on my South East Film Critics Award Ballot.
Indeed, I consider the Coen Brothers in a league of their own, producing memorable quality films. Their vision is uniquely surrealistic. They have “Conenized” this remake.
In that respect, this is much more than a remake of the 1969 film starring John Wayne. It’s a Coen Brother’s styled re-imagining of the characters and story, with the Coen Brother’s film noir overview. The project reunited Jeff Bridges with the Coens from their classic cult film, The Big Lebowski–one of my top ten films of all time.
The real star of this film is Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross, a scary smart 14 year old girl going on 30. Her father was murdered by the thug, Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) and she seeks frontier justice–revenge. She wants to have him arrested and bring him back to hang.
Mattie finds out that an old, fat, drunken bounty hunter named Rooster Cogburn is the man for the job. Despite his vices and slovenly ways, he always gets his man and is a crack shot. Mattie calls it true grit.
They join up with a Texas Ranger, LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) who wants to arrest Chaney on unrelated charges. Suddenly, Mattie is running the show and doesn’t take any crap from Cogburn or LaBoeuf.
The Coens script develops the principal characters with great depth and wit. Steinfeld’s Mattie instinctively knows when to press Cogburn and LaBoeuf and when to back off. She secretly carries a gun in her carry-case and will use it if necessary.
Along the way, Cogburn develops a begrudging respect for this feisty teenager. Yet, his chronic alcholism begins to get in the way. But Mattie rousts Cogburn out of his stupor and gets him motivated again.
In a marvelous Coen Brothers touch, on the trail, the Cogburn posse encounter a strange bearded man draped in a full bear skin, face and all. They ask him to recommend a place to stay the night. His monologue is a typical Coen Brothers’ Shakespearian aside–funny and strange.
Overall, this is this season’s best film for general audiences and quality film devotees alike. Jeff Bridges is transcendent as Rooster Cogburn. This film has many layers of excellence to happily absorb. It may be the best western ever made.