Having watched the original True Grit and not liking it that much (except the performance of John Wayne) I was looking forward to what the Coens will do with this film as this is not what one calls a Coenish movie. This is venture into the straightforward territory for the Coens. Their biggest commercial success to date, and their most normal movie as well. But I do not say this as a bad thing. Coens have made a truly wonderful Western movie at a time when the genre is supposed to be dead or unmarketable. The Coens delve into the Wild West so smoothly, so aptly, one can’t help but feel as if they have been doing it for their whole career, yet it is their first true western (some people count No Country for Old Men as a western, too).
The plot is quite simple. Mattie Ross, a 14-year-old girl, sets about to find the killer of her father. She enlists the help of a US Marshall, Reuben Cogburn. Their objectives overlap with those of a Texas Ranger, Mr. Labeouf. Hence, they all set about looking for Tom Chaney, the killer, into the Indian territory. This is the basic narrative that drives the movie. On the surface this appears to be a simple revenge thriller, which in many parts it is, but on close watching the audience realizes that it is so much more than that. It is a character study. It is the exploration of the beautiful landscape of the Wild Wild West. It is the battle between good vs evil, between justice vs crime.
The characters that run this movie are the best thing about it. The movie quickly steps into motion and we’re introduced to Mattie. She at once appears to be a hard talking, standing firm kind of girl. She doesn’t let anyone out speak her, despite her age. She is a born negotiator. Her character is established almost instantly when she deals some business with a local stable manager. The quality of the script burst out, even at that beginning moment. The viewer is involved the deal they are making as if they personally stand to gain something of it, and that, in my opinion, is the mark of a great script: making the viewer feel a part of the movie.
Jeff Bridges as Marshall Reuben Cogburn plays it so differently from John Wayne that it is hard to believe that they are even portraying the same characters. Bridges’s Cogburn is a hard drinking, tough lawman who has true grit. He shoots first and asks questions later. His character is introduced in the most amusing manner: in the court of law and that is where the audience learns that he is a little loose on the trigger. Bridges gives a great performance, one that will be remembered as one of the best of his career. His Cogburn has perfect comedic timing when the movie needs it and he also pulls in some emotional moments as well. All in all, a well rounded performance from the experienced actor.
Matt Damon, as Mr. Labeouf, is also pretty good. While this may not be his greatest role, but this is one that is most interesting. He plays a man who likes to boast about his people and takes offends to anyone who doesn’t. He is hot headed, yet determined. He might appear to be a comic buffoon at times, but he is a courageous man. These series of paradox qualities makes this a great character to watch and Damon brings every justice to the role.
Apart from the lead roles, the supporting roles are well acted, too. From the undertaker to Lucky Ned Pepper to Tom Chaney (played by Josh Brolin), every role is great to watch. This establishes that the Coens put equal thought in casting the side roles as much as they do in casting the leading roles, which makes them such auteurs of cinema.
The cinematography of the movie is great. Scene after scene is awe inspiring. The Wild West scenery catches the eye, especially at night and in the snow. The score of the movie is almost beautiful and melodious. It is soft most of the times, in going with the theme of the movie, but when the time be, it pumps up.
In the end, this is a most unusual Coen Brother movie in the sense that it is normal. The team that brought us some of the most original movies of the past three decades, adapted a novel and produced another great movie. A must watch.