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TRUE GRIT (directors/writers: Joel and Ethan Coen; screenwriter: based on the novel by Charles Portis; cinematographer: Roger Deakins; editor: Roderick Jaynes; music: Carter Burwell; cast: Jeff Bridges (Rooster Cogburn), Hailee Steinfeld (Mattie Ross), Matt Damon (LaBoeuf), Josh Brolin (Tom Chaney), Barry Pepper (Lucky Ned Pepper), Dakin Matthews (Col. Stonehill), Paul Rae (Emmett Quincy), Domhnall Gleeson (Moon (The Kid), Elizabeth Marvel (40-Year-Old Mattie), Leon Russom (Sheriff); Runtime: 110; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Scott Rudin/Joel and Ethan Coen; Paramount; 2010)
“Remarkable remake of the 1969 film that starred John Wayne.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The brothers Joel and Ethan Coen (“A Serious Man“/”Burn After Reading”/”The Big Lebowski“)write and direct this remarkable remake of the 1969 film that starred John Wayne. The 62-year-old Duke won his only Oscar for his wonderful hammy performance as the colorful, comical, hard-drinking, gruff, eye-patch wearing one eyed U.S. marshal imbued with “true grit.” In the remake the 64-year-old Jeff Bridges plays the same U.S. marshal Rooster Cogburn and is formidable, though he’s no Wayne. Some sharp-tongued critics called the film “The Dude Meets The Duke.”

Where the remake is better than the original, is in the brother’s sharper focus on storyline and in their superior craftsmanship. This version is a more competent and enjoyable one, as the lazy directing by Henry Hathaway put a slight damper on the original. Also the brothers are more faithful to the great 1968 novel by Charles Portis (except it skips on the heroine’s Christian fervor that Portis layed on us in heavy doses in his novel).

It’s set in the 1870s in Fort Smith (shot near Telluride), where feisty mature beyond her years 14-year-old Mattie Ross’ (Hailee Steinfeld) dad has been killed by a dangerous drifter outlaw named Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin). Since the local sheriff (Leon Russom) says the killer fled into Indian territory, it’s out of his jurisdiction to pursue the wanted man. The indifferent town has no will to send a posse after Chaney. But the stubbornly determined humorless Mattie is eager to make sure her father’s murder is avenged, and thereby skillfully barters with horse trader Col. Stonehill (Dakin Matthews) to raise enough for reward money, from her dad’s worldly possessions, to hire the grizzly U. S. marshal Rooster Cogburn to track her dad’s killer. Rooster’s a mean hombre with a rep of killing most of the wanted men he goes after. To his chagrin, she insists on going along and against his objections joins him. Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) is also tracking Chaney for several months, as he hopes to bring him back to Texas for killing a state senator.

The mismatched trio reluctantly team up and cut a bloody path through the snowy mountainous Indian territory. The trio’s journey features humorous riffs between the odd couple marshal and the Texas Ranger, gory surprises on the trail as the trio meet up with snarly gang leader Lucky Ned Pepper (Barry Pepper) who is harboring Chaney and it leads to a well-executed climactic shoot-out.

NewcomerHailee Steinfeld, the film’s central character, is outstanding and probably the pic’s main reason for success, displaying her “true grit” by making sure this straight-forward western is a real delight in a classic western sense.

REVIEWED ON 12/13/2010 GRADE: A-

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”