I've had a love/hate relationship with Joel and Ethan Cohen over the years. For every great film they release (Fargo, Raising Arizona, The Big Lebowski), they balance their genius with annoying duds like No Country For Old Men and Oh Brother Where Art Thou. The most recent Cohen film I saw was Burn After Reading, a hilarious little film with some great performances from Brad Pitt and John Malcovich which gave me high hopes for this follow-up remake of a John Wayne classic.
True Grit managed to exceed all expectations I had going into the movie as the Cohens have once again produced a thrilling, engaging and at times very funny Western epic. Jeff Bridges assumes the Wayne roll of US Marshall Rooster Cogburn and delivers yet another outstanding performance hot off the heels of his Oscar winning turn in Crazy Heart last year. Bridges has definitely found his niche in the twilight of his movie career. He excels at playing drunk, colorful country heroes and his gruff portrayal of Cogburn and his pursuit of a fugitive is so very believable. Expect Bridges to be up for Oscar once again (but from what I hear, Colin Firth in The King's Speech is a shoe-in for that award - the next movie I need to see).
Sharing the acting spotlight in True Grit is 14-year-old newcomer Hailee Steinfeld who completely owns the screen throughout this movie. She plays Mattie Ross, a young girl who is trying to avenge her father's death by hiring bounty hunters to track down his murderer. Steinfeld's Ross is wise way beyond her years and holds her own with Bridges and Matt Damon. A scene early on in the movie has her bargaining with a store owner and getting her way without much effort. I hope the Academy honors her performance in what is actually her very first big screen role. The future is definitely bright for this young star.
Damon himself was not as good as I thought he'd be in this film. He just doesn't seem like he belongs in a Western. You're used to the Bourne, Rounders or Oceans 11/12/13 roles he's played and he just doesn't fit in as a Texas Ranger. I can't believe the most critical aspect of this film for me was the casting of Matt Damon. The Cohen Bros. do a remarkable job of shooting the film with wide shots and a grainy look that cements that Western feel. Their writing is outstanding as well with so many interesting lines of dialogue and some patented Cohen wit thrown in. Overall this movie deserves to be near the top of the Best-of-2010 lists. Extremely engaging and entertaining throughout, do yourself a favor and go see one of the best Westerns I've ever seen. 4.5 out of 5 JRs for True Grit.