The American Western returns to the big screen with True Grit, a remake of a John Wayne movie done by the Coen Brothers. This time around the result is both quirky and traditional.

The story in True Grit is about revenge, both legal and vigilante. Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), a very mature, blunt, and serious 14-year-old girl, is after Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), who killed her father in Arkansas. He fled to the Indian territories, where the law is uninterested in pursuing him. Mattie ignores the calls for her to head home; instead, she (comically) sells off some ponies to hire people to pursue Chaney, capture him, and return him for trial and execution.
Mattie winds up with two very different cowboys. U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) is a mess: old, fat, drunk, and one-eyed. He also has a reputation for being tenacious and more willing to kill a target than let him escape, so Mattie hires him over other candidates. Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) has been pursuing Chaney since the latter killed a Texas senator. LaBoeuf is more civilized than Cogburn, but possibly less experienced. And naturally, Mattie accompanies the two men on the manhunt.

True Grit is a blend of the romantic and realistic. There's a feeling of nostalgia for the West, as the trio travel through scenic terrain through much of the film. Cogburn and LaBoeuf are contrasts of the code of the West: the former is a wreck but gets the job done, while the latter is polished and prideful but may not have much backing him up. At the same time, this movie is very violent, from a public hanging early in the film to numerous scenes of bloodshed that are far from romanticized.

The Coen Brothers bring a few oddball touches to the film -- a wilderness doctor wearing a bearskin for warmth, Mattie's grandmother sharing a bed and stealing the covers -- but this True Grit is, by and large, a traditional Western, complete with dangerous terrain and shoot-outs against incredible odds. The acting is all very good (though young Hailee Steinfeld is given an edge with her serious dialogue over Jeff Daniels' almost clownish drunken buffoon) and the Coen Brothers know how to pace action and create tension. True Grit doesn't redefine the Western, but it's a good journey into the Old West.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch

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