Well acted, tightly directed and well paced Western.
It's the Coen Bothers! The best filmmaking fraternity since the Marx Brothers return with a remake of the Oscar Winning (TM) John Wayne Vehicle True Grit, an entirely adequate Western that could really have used a bit more Grit over the Technicolor approach of '69.
Jeff Bridges steps into the alcoholic, shoot first, determine guilt later boots of US Marshal Rooster Cogburn, hired by young Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) to track down and "bring to justice" Josh Brolin's Tom Chaney.
It turns out that despite Chaney being one of the dumbest sunnuvabitches on the plains, he's managed to evade justice across the country, with Texas Ranger "Shia" LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) in hot pursuit. Or at least, lukewarm pursuit.
Throwing in their lots together after the usual period of bickering, they head off on the trail of Chaney, who has thrown in with Lucky Ned Pepper (Barry Pepper)'s gang of miscreant varmints in a tale which isn't going to hold any surprises for viewers of the last outing. And I assume also the novel, but while I can't comment on the accuracy of the novel to film translation, there's barely a scene added or missing between the Coen's outing and Henry Hathaway's version.
It does, however, add a helluva lot more Grit, and violence. I don't want to come across like a bloodthirsty nutcase, but this really is the sort of film that needs the edge to it that the earlier version doesn't have. While it retains the black humour of the original, it's contrasted far better in the Coen's version with some truly grim and bloody moments that give it a punch the original pulled on a few occasions.
It's not perfect, as it also pulls through some of the same negatives from the film (and novel, I guess). In fact, this accentuates the prime annoyance for me. The villainous Chaney doesn't even appear in the film until a long ways in, and even then he's very much second banana, or even a lower numbered banana, in the Pepper gang. And I'm not given much of a reason to care about the Pepper gang's fate, other than they happen to be there.
Bridges, all things being equal, is a better actor than John Wayne, a position I think wouldn't be controversial to any but the most hardened Wayne fan. However, in the main Bridges' Rooster is more interesting because he's allowed to show his flaws far more obviously than Wayne. As such it's a far more interesting character to watch. I can't for the life of me see what was Oscar-worthy about Wayne's turn, and I wouldn't say Bridges deserved to repeat this fate, but it's a damn enjoyable watch.
Matt Damon is obviously a better actor than Glen Bloody Campbell, a position I think wouldn't be controversial to any but the most brain-dead fool on the planet. He's more than up to the task of playing La Boeuf, although at times he's veering off into comic sidekick a little too much.
The standout performance is from Hailee Steinfeld, playing Mattie with a fine mixture of headstrong confidence blustering over a more fragile layer of vulnerability.
The cinematography is, as you can almost guarantee in a Coen brothers outing of late, quite beautiful, and it's a well acted, tightly directed and well paced movie. I don't think it's Oscar-worthy, but it's pretty damned enjoyable and certainly doesn't bring the average quality of the best flick nominees down.
Hailee Steinfeld (Mattie Ross)
Matt Damon (LaBoeuf)
Josh Brolin (Tom Chaney)
Barry Pepper (Lucky Ned Pepper)