True Grit – Review by Harry Cunningham

Colourful and cinematic whilst intimate and beautifully narrated, True Grit tells the story of fourteen year old Mattie Ross. Heavily distressed by the death of her father at the hands of local villain Tom Chaney, Mattie arrives to collect his body when she witnesses the hanging of three convicts. Convinced that Chaney must go the same way, she convinces local marshal Rooster Cogburn and Texas ranger: LaBeouf to track him down with the promise of a $50 dollar reward- and thus they embark on a campaign to bring Chaney to justice.

Although the film is a re-make, the Cohen brothers have been more faithful to the novel rather than paying homage to the 1969 version and this is refreshing to see. Everything is handled with such care and the direction is clear. HaileeSteinfeld fits the role of Mattie perfectly. Of course there’s no way you could under-act the character but the way Steinfeld conveys Mattie’s remarkable sense of duty are matched only by Bridge’s Cogburn. Bold, blunt and straight talking, his character is two sided. On the one hand Cogburn is reckless, almost un-hinged but equally he is modest, warm and kind-hearted and in the opening scenes we seem him at ease in a court room, cracking jokes and amusing Mattie whilst later we see the reckless Cogburn, one that’s drunk, inarticulate and vexed.  But there can be no denying that the balance is just right.

Taking Mattie’s point of view is also refreshing in the way it misleads us.  Through her words we hear of Tom Chaney the monster, the great un-repentant villain, savage and brutal ‘till the very moment the noose is tightened around his neck. And we believe her!But when we do finally metBrolin’s Chaney, he’s vulnerable, on edge and psychotic. In fact what we see is a confused man, plagued by guilt and overwhelmed by the sheer force of his own anger.

The great thing about True Grit though is that it’s justas beautifully constructed as it is well written. From the minute Mattie steps of the train, we walk effortlessly into nineteenth century Oklahoma. The sweeping long shots, capturing the setting sun and the vastness of the deserts pay homage to classic westerns while later we see the greens of the savannah blissfully juxtaposed with the crisp snow and barren wastelands, giving us a snapshot of life in post-civil war America. There’s nothing epic or cliché about the setting either, we don’t see cowboys duelling in the street, or stand-off’s in saloons.

What we see in the Cohen’s re-make is something honest and intimate. It is a Western and yes we can praise it for it’s stylistic qualities but Ithink there’s something much too deep about Mattie and her innocence to shunt itun-affectionately into the ‘western bracket’,without regard for how much more it gives us. This is a portrait of a young girl’s realisation of the world around her and ultimately a refreshing, ‘coming of age’ approach to the original. 

True Grit is a beautiful piece of cinema and is well worth going to see.

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