Movie Review: True Grit

By Russell Baillie

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Hailee Steinfeld is shown in a scene from, 'True Grit.' Photo / Supplied
Hailee Steinfeld is shown in a scene from, 'True Grit.' Photo / Supplied

Big screen westerns of recent years have roughly fallen into two camps.

There has been the literate authentic American Gothic of long titles like The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford or The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada.

And there has been tumbleweed pulp fiction like The Quick and the Dead or 3:10 to Yuma.

Whether by accident or design, True Grit falls nicely between the two.

It's as highly entertaining as it is offbeat and gets its spark as much from its terrific performances as it does from gunpowder.

True Grit is of course a remake of the 1969 movie which got an ageing John Wayne an overdue Oscar for playing cantankerous US Marshal Rooster Cogburn. That one is best remembered for the scene where an eye-patched Cogburn gallops at the gang he's been chasing, with a spinning rifle in each mitt.

This new one isn't exactly a redo, but a revisit of the original Charles Portis novel about plucky 14-year-old Mattie Ross who makes it her business to avenge her father's death by employing the wizened Cogburn to help her find the varmint what did it.

Jeff Bridges' Cogburn retains the Wayne eyepatch and the girth but he's not up for the carbine twirl.

However, he's got plenty more acting ammo. Just when we might be growing a little familiar with Bridges as yet another grizzled geezer, he pulls out his best one yet.

His Cogburn is hilarious, a little more Dude than Duke, and you can fair smell his whiskey breath coming off the screen. Damon, too, taking the Texas Ranger role earlier played by Glen Campbell, is no rhinestone cowboy.

But the film belongs to young Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross, the frontier teen with a will of steel and a gatling gun for a mouth. You have to wonder why she's only up for a supporting actress Oscar when she's in 80 per cent of the film and she's both its conscience and its heart.

She has the lion's share of its idiomatic dialogue - a Coens speciality - where ornate-meets-ornery. Though in its second half, which isn't as energised as the first, you do get a feeling that often comes with the Coen flicks; that they have delivered another movie-kind-of-movie. That is, they've taken a genre and pondered: how can we exaggerate its conventions to our own idiosyncratic ends?

That hasn't always worked for them in the past, especially when they've added comedy. Here though, it does. And it's made it the Coens' biggest hit yet - bigger even than their Oscar-winning No Country for Old Men. It's maybe not their greatest movie. But it's still the best new western in an age, even if it is an old one.

LOWDOWN

Stars: 4.5/5
Cast: Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld, Matt Damon
Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen
Rating: M (violence)
Running time: 110 mins
Verdict: The Dude does the Duke but the kid steals the show

-TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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