The Coen Brothers, Joel and Ethan, have made a lot of good movies like Fargo and Miller's Crossing, but after O Brother, Where Art Though went on a long streak of mediocrity that led their No Country For Old Men to be wildly overpraised and awarded. (Really? Best Picture for a movie with one good scene with one great line of dialog? Bah.) Their follow-up, Burn After Reading, was an OK trifle, but the execrable A Serious Man was so terrible that I turned it off. When it was revealed they were remaking the John Wayne classic True Grit, I didn't have much hope for them despite barely remembering the original and not having a stake in whether they were faithful to the source novel.
Fortunately, True Grit avoids being true sh*t thanks to a dryly ironic script by the Coens and powered by a star-is-born performance by 14-year-old Hailee Steinfeld who was mis-nominated for Best Supporting Actress even though she's in almost every scene while Jeff Bridges (who got a Best Actor nod) and Matt Damon come and go from the story. It's probably the best debut by a young actor since a 12-year-old Natalie Portman arrived in Leon: The Professional.
As the trailer shows, Steinfeld's daddy has been killed by Josh Brolin and the plucky recruits drunken crotchety Rooster Cogburn to go into Indian country to track him down and bring him to justice. Hijinx ensue. My largest problem with the movie is Bridge's take on Rooster. His slurry, mumbled delivery makes him hard to understand and I didn't think he was very layered as a character. Damon is more comedic and the supporting roles are well-played, but core is Steinfeld and she's likely to have a good career ahead. (She's being heavily buzzed for the lead of Katniss in The Hunger Games.)
Well-photographed by Roger Deakins, True Grit may not fully redeem the Coens from their decade of failness, but it's certainly a step in the right direction though Unforgiven is a much better Western.
Score: 7/10. Rent the DVD.