After dominating the Oscar race of 2007 with the superb “No Country for Old Men,” Joel and Ethan Coen shared their wish of doing a true western. Many shrugged when they made this comment, as critics often felt that “No Country” was a western. Many more shrugged when they announced their desire to remake “True Grit,” the classic western that earned John Wayne his Academy Award (although his sickness clearly had more to do with his win, than his hammy performance).
Joel and Ethan have gone back to the original novel of “True Grit” for inspiration for their adaptation, which is far superior to the original film. The story of “True Grit” is well known in Fayetteville, as it takes place in Fort Smith. The film follows the journey of young actress Hailee Steinfeld, as she pursues the man who killed her father. Her desire is to avenge his death by bringing his murderer to justice.
She hires U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn, skillfully handled by Academy Award winner Jeff Bridges. In any other year, he would be considered a serious threat to win Best Actor. However, after winning last year for “Crazy Heart,” a nomination will probably have to suffice. That takes nothing away from what Bridges does with the role. He takes it away from its cartoonish appearance, and adds depth and reality to the famous role.
Matt Damon, Barry Pepper, and Josh Brolin round out the talented cast. Of the three, Damon stands a slim chance at a Best Supporting Actor nomination (in a crowded field) as a Texas Ranger also on the pursuit of Brolin’s antagonist.
The star of the movie is clearly Steinfeld, who was selected from over fifteen thousand young actresses. Her mastery of the screenplay and the language inherent within it is shockingly good. She is a serious threat to win Best Supporting Actress. Her youth will probably work against her winning, but with the box office returns of “True Grit” proving successful, her chances rise.
Perhaps the reason for the surprise financial success of “True Grit” comes from the fact that this is arguably the most watered-down and approachable Coen Brothers film. That is not intended as a diss on the film, though. With such a complicated script and story, the stripped down approach and sentimentality is almost refreshing in contrast to other works by the brothers. If you take the film on its own, you will be pleasantly surprised. However, if you compare it to the brothers’ other works like “No Country” or “Fargo,” you will be disappointed. This is no “Fargo,” but it’s easily one of the best films of the year.
The cinematography, acting, and screenplay are top notch. It is a true tear jerker that satisfies the audience in ways that Coen films often don’t. There is no abrupt or shocking ending, no odd scenes of reflection, or random scenes of forced confrontation. What there is, though, is a lovely film from two of our finest directors. “True Grit” is truly superior to its original, and an excellent adaptation of the original text.
Wayne Bell is a regular contributor for the Fayetteville Flyer. He moved to Fayetteville in 2003 for his Master’s Degree and you can almost always catch him at Little Bread Co. or Hammontree’s. For more of Wayne’s contributions, visit his author page.