‘True Grit’ surpasses classic original

Justin Marietti

As I was leaving the movie theater a few weeks ago, I saw a large banner advertising a new Western movie called “True Grit” starring Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Josh Brolin. As if the cast wasn’t enough to pique my interest, it was directed by the Coen Brothers (“Fargo,” “The Big Lebowski,” “No Country for Old Men”). These men are true masters of their craft, and “No Country for Old Men” is a personal favorite. Naturally, I decided this was a must-see.

“True Grit” is a remake of a 1969 film of the same name, which starred John Wayne in one of the final acting roles of his career. Wayne played the role of “Rooster” Cogburn, a worn-out lawman and bounty-hunter. In the updated version, Cogburn is played by Jeff Bridges. The narration is handled by the lead role in Mattie Ross (Steinfeld), whose father was murdered senselessly by an outlaw named Tom Chaney (Brolin). Ross is outraged, and she seeks her own brand of justice by hiring Cogburn to bring the vigilante in.

When any classic film is remade, audiences often automatically compare and contrast one to the other. I find this to be a nearly impossible task with most genres – except for Westerns. The reason why many Western films are considered classics in the first place is they didn’t need all of the technology that modern movie studios have in order to make a great movie. All they need are great characters engaged in a battle of good versus evil, and “True Grit” has just that.

Bridges doesn’t have the same clout that the Duke did in his heyday, but I think this just adds more to the appeal of the new movie. Even though he is a well-known actor, he doesn’t have the type of massive stardom that could take away from the story itself. From beginning to end, the story of “True Grit” undoubtedly revolves around Mattie Ross.

When I watch the old movie, no matter how hard I try, it always seems to be centered on John Wayne. In the new version, the dynamic between Cogburn and Ross plays a big part in the story, but the reason the two cross paths in the first place is Ross’s unrelenting desire for Tom Chaney to be brought in and hung for his crimes. As she is looking for a bounty hunter to help her find Chaney, she is told that Cogburn is a man of “true grit,” and immediately sets her mind on him.

Matt Damon plays the role of LaBoeuf, a Texas Ranger who has been tracking Chaney and his gang for several weeks. He joins Cogburn and Ross for part of their journey, and his character is used at times to bring some comic relief into the movie. I was a little skeptical about seeing Matt Damon in a Western, but I was also skeptical before seeing the first Jason Bourne movie too, and he definitely silenced my criticisms there. He does an impressive job in his role as supporting actor in this movie.

The screenplay for “True Grit” is based on a novel by Charles Portis, and the Coen Brothers did a good job of staying true to Portis’ vision by using the book’s dialogue and humor. The movie even opens with the quote from Proverbs, “The wicked flee when none pursueth,” which appears in the first chapter of the book.

Also identical to the book, there are times in the movie where Cogburn can easily be seen as an old, cynical, drunkard has-been. But when push comes to shove and everything is on the line, he reveals his true character, and proves himself worthy of the praise given to Ross earlier in the film.

The end of the movie was good, but definitely wasn’t the ending I was expecting. It wraps everything up in a very simple, artistic fashion, stripping it all down to the core message of the film and not attempting to add fluff where it doesn’t belong.

Overall, I definitely recommend this movie: great acting, great story. Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld  should receive Oscar nominations for their roles.