Steinfeld shines in Coens? new film

Corey Wackel

Corey WackelNews Editor

In recent years, Hollywood has gotten the idea that remaking nearly every movie is a great idea. The lack of original, new ideas is almost sickening and just when I’ve labeled just about every rehash a cinematic disaster, True Grit comes along and gives me some kind of hope.

The film is a remake of the 1969 Western directed by Henry Hathaway. The original starred John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn, in what would become his only Oscar-winning performance. The interesting thing is that the film is considered by many movie reviewers to be a lesser entry to Wayne’s resume. At the time of the Oscar win, Wayne’s health was beginning to decline, and many argue that the award was a last minute effort to acknowledge the career of a true legend.

Filling the shoes of Wayne in this reinvention is Jeff Bridges, an Oscar winner last year for his work in Crazy Heart. Behind the camera are Joel and Ethan Coen, the directing team who previously directed Bridges in the cult classic The Big Lebowski.

What largely makes the new True Grit work is its ability to tell us a familiar story from a different angle. The original film largely focused on the character of Rooster Cogburn, probably because Hollywood studios at the time knew Wayne’s star power would draw people to theaters. The 1968 novel by Charles Portis, upon which both films are based, actually focuses on the character of Mattie Ross, portrayed by Kim Darby in the 1969 version and by newcomer Hailee Steinfeld in the remake. The Coens’ decision to move Ross to the center of the story is what makes the film work. The story, after all, builds around Ross’ decision to hire someone who can track down the man who shot and killed her father. That man turns out to be Cogburn, a United States Marshal who shows “true grit.’

The performances in True Grit are some of the best from 2010. Bridges reinvents Cogburn, bringing both humor and tragedy to the character. As secondary as the character may be, Bridges crafts another astonishing performance, showing the audience that he is one of the finest actors working today. He has come to be someone we can always expect a great performance from.

The real stand out of True Grit, however, is Steinfeld. The fourteen year-old actress seems like a seasoned actress and it’s surprising to see that True Grit is her first feature film. In a year filled with great performances, she is at the level of them all. Her Mattie Ross is a strong character and Steinfeld takes the audience on a journey by showing the character’s growth throughout the film. Personally, I cannot wait to see more from this actress, who’s basically guaranteed an Oscar nomination for her work here. Matt Damon and Josh Brolin show up in the film as well, although their characters didn’t seem to be as developed. Damon’s is much more developed, providing humor to the often brutal film. Brolin’s acting abilities, however, seem to be squandered. His character shows up in the last twenty minutes of the film and seems to have little depth. Any possible complaints I have of the film would probably be because of his character.

The Coens’ direction is really what drives True Grit, however. Since their feature film debut in 1984 with Blood Simple, the Coens have established themselves as the finest directors currently working in film. No director has presented such a wide array of films, and since their debut the Coen brothers have been nominated for an astounding ten Academy Awards, winning four. The duo started by writing unmistakably original material and they have a unique style. Their views of an ultimately bleak world are always brought to life with wit and a surprising real-life resonance. In 2007, No Country for Old Men became the first adaptation for the brothers. Up until that point they had only written original works, the most notable being 1996’s Fargo. The success of No Country for Old Men combined with that of True Grit, shows that the Coens are more than capable of producing adaptations that match their work written directly for the screen. True Grit also follows the lead of No Country for Old Men in that both were in the western vein, with True Grit becoming the Coens’ first real “genre-film.’ The Coen brothers use every one of their filmmaking abilities to create something wholly original, however. The western is a hard genre to add anything new to, and most directors won’t even touch the seemingly outdated genre. Lucky for audiences, the Coens have done just that, creating the best western since Clint Eastwood’s 1992 masterpiece Unforgiven.

Final Comment: Joel and Ethan Coen continue their streak of masterpieces, producing a truly great film. Jeff Bridges show us, once again, his incredible acting talent, but it is newcomer Hailee Steinfeld who will truly blow you away.

Rating: 10/10