As John’s retrospecticus has pointed out, the Coen brothers have already done novel adaptations as well as remakes. Their latest film, True Grit sees them taking on a project that is both a remake of the 1969 John Wayne film, but also an adaptation of Charles Portis’s novel. Now you’d think that a film with so many ties to earlier material might diminish that signature Coen brothers style. But make no mistake about it, this film feels like about exactly what a Coen brothers Western should feel like.
The film’s premise is about as simple as it gets, as it chronicles a young girl’s search for Tom Chaney (Josh Brolan), the man who killed her father. In order to track down this killer, she hires U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn, a role made famous by the late John Wayne, now played with laconic crustiness by the always reliable Jeff Bridges.
True Grit in many ways does feel like the Coens taking on more commercial material, with it’s all-star cast and fairly linear story. And yet you’ve got all the hallmarks of what makes a Coen brothers film a pleasure to watch. You’ve got that great obtuse dialogue, some wonderfully odd supporting characters, and some absolutely breathtaking cinematography from the masterful Roger Deakins.
I haven’t seen the original True Grit, so I can’t really say how Jeff Bridges stacks up against the Oscar-winning performance of The Duke, but I’d say it ranks among Bridges’ better performances. However, the biggest stand-out of the film for me is the 14-year-old Hailee Steinfeld, who despite her age manages to carry much of the film. Matt Damon and Josh Brolan also turn in solid performances, but I’d say it’s the dynamic between Steinfeld and Bridges that really drives the film.
So True Grit doesn’t quite see the Coens reinventing the Western, but merely approaching it in their own unique way. So now that they’ve officially crossed off the western on their list of genres, I can only imagine what genre they take on next. Sci-fi perhaps?