The Coen brothers created a beautiful western in the lauded No Country for Old Men, a movie that was deep as it was wide and as epic as it was melancholy. In True Grit, things seem simpler, more cut and dry in a tale of revenge and aging.
Hailee Steinfeld stunningly plays Mattie Ross, a headstrong girl who takes it upon herself to bring to justice the man who killed her father. Cunning, educated, and well spoken, the 14-year-old girl manipulates and bullies adults into doing her will. Forceful and proud, she doesn’t butter her words when talking to her elders, “And ‘futile,’ Marshal Cogburn, ‘Pursuit would be futile?’ It’s not spelled f-u-d-e-l.” Unable to get the law to act for her cause, she decides to hire a bounty hunter in U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), a mumbling man with a merciless streak. She even checks him out at a court hearing as a lawyer questions whether he absolutely needed to use deadly force in a manhunt that left one surviving family member. Despite the dangers, Ross plans to accompany Cogburn while carrying her own pistol, perhaps to exact her own brand of vengeance.
The characters portrayed are believable though Matt Damon is outmatched in his role as LaBeouf, a Texas Ranger who’s a little too full of himself. Barry Pepper is unrecognizable and multi-faceted as Lucky Ned, and Dakin Matthews as Col. Stonehill is brilliant and hilarious. The Coen brothers know how to flesh out characters, but True Grit seemed to lack that extra oomph. Much time is used in setting up the story, and the last few acts seem rushed. It’s not a bad movie — it’s actually above average, but it could have been better, especially with the expectations one has going into a movie bearing the Coen brand. True Grit comes across as watered down — it begins so well with its complex story of revenge, grace, and time, but it climaxes like an action movie as the main characters shoot, get shot at, and land in dark holes as if someone said, Okay, let’s wrap things up. Emphasis seems to have been placed on knowing who the characters are at the expense of plot. It feels incomplete, and more so because of the many things that do work.