DVD Release Date: June 7, 2011
Theatrical Release Date: December 22, 2010
Rating: PG-13 (for some intense sequences of western violence including disturbing images)
Genre: Western, Remake, Drama
Run Time: 110 min.
Directors: Ethan and Joel Coen
Actors: Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Hailee Steinfield, Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper, Paul Rae, Ed Corbin
Truth be told, it takes some true grit to reprise the role that led to John Wayne's first Oscar.
As it turns out, however, last year's Best Actor winner Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart) is more than up to the task as the story's slovenly hero Rooster Cogburn. And thanks to a whip-smart script by those ever-inventive Coen brothers, not to mention an old-fashioned fighting spirit in this classic quest for wrongs being made right by any means necessary, True Grit has plenty of substance and style, a formidable combination for any film, let alone a remake.
Like the best stories, the premise of True Grit is simple yet jam-packed with opportunities for emotional investment. Back in the era where women were still considered second-class citizens, a feisty 14-year-old farm girl named Mattie Ross (newcomer Hailee Steinfield, who is nothing short of superb) isn't about to let her father's killer roam free, even if her family has all but given up on justice being served.
Determined that ol' Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) should pay the price for his crime sooner rather than later, Mattie wants to make sure the job's done right. Sensing that she probably shouldn't venture out into those wide open spaces all by herself, she eventually enlists the aid of the toughest U.S. Marshall she can find, namely one Rooster Cogburn.
Getting Rooster to actually agree to help is far more of a challenge than Mattie was ever expecting, though. See, these days, Rooster, who joins the locals in poking fun at himself for being fat and only being able to see out of one eye, prefers drinking and laying around to just about anything. But for the right price, Mattie eventually convinces the man who's still got a pretty great shot that her cause is a worthy one.
Of course, Rooster's not exactly all that invested in what's right, so despite the "true grit" the locals say Rooster has in spades, Mattie doesn't exactly trust him not to take advantage of her. Afraid he'll cut and run with the money she had such a hard time securing in the first place, she insists on accompanying him on the journey, something that's not only against his wishes, but downright laughable in his eyes because girls, let alone ones who aren't "much bigger than a corn kernel," simply can't keep up.
Naturally, Mattie isn't your ordinary girly girl with a bad case of boy craziness. Not only does she possess maturity way beyond her years and manages to stay toe to toe with Rooster through one perilous situation after another, but she trades verbal barbs just as easily, too. In fact, one of the film's biggest pleasures is hearing Rooster and Mattie banter back and forth in the witty, winning way only the Coen brothers could've made possible—even if you can only understand about half what Rooster is actually saying. A strong case could've probably been made for providing subtitles, but Rooster's nonverbal communication is effective enough to allow the viewer to fill in the blanks.
Adding another intriguing dimension to the action is when a Texas ranger sporting a handlebar mustache named LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) shows up. Repeatedly equating him to "circus folk," Rooster isn't exactly thrilled with his desire to help either. But like Mattie, La Boeuf is also intent on seeing Tom Chaney dead because he murdered a famed Texas senator. So despite Rooster's reluctance to let him, LaBoeuf joins the motley crew, and from there, the story only grows more interesting.
Surprisingly enough, there's quite a bit of biblical imagery of the Old Testament variety peppered throughout the proceedings. Opening with a quote from Proverbs 1, the script later references the call for righteous vengeance found in Ezekiel 1 and also serves up a poignant soliloquy on the grace of God, not only in the soundtrack, but in a few lines of particularly meaningful dialogue.
Unlike, say, O Brother Where Art Thou? where the underlying faith message was far more tongue in cheek than something worth regarding seriously, the deeper spiritual truths in True Grit are ultimately the basis for what's an engaging tale of a man who learns the meaning of sacrifice from a much younger woman who wasn't afraid to stand up for what's right—even if it meant endangering her own life in the process.
Drugs/Alcohol: Rooster is notorious for drinking and smoking way too much.
Language/Profanity: A couple of instances where the Lord's name is taken in vain.
Violence: There's a public hanging of three men, plus plenty of shoot ‘em up scenes that have various degrees of bloodiness. Anyone afraid of snakes will be less than thrilled with one scene in particular that involves young Mattie, the aforementioned reptile and a tightly enclosed space.
Christa Banister is a full-time freelancer writer, specializing in music, movies and books-related reviews and interviews and is the author of two novels, Around the World in 80 Dates and Blessed Are the Meddlers. Based in Dallas, Texas, she also weighs in on various aspects of pop culture on her personal blog.
For more information, including her upcoming book signings and sample chapters of her novels, check out her Website.