Elliot Hyams returns to the Wild West as the Coen Brothers try their hand at an American classic.
Who can honestly say the prospect of a remake excites them? Even when a remake is done well it can still leave you wondering what the point was in trying to fix something that wasn’t broken in the first place, and at their worst remakes achieve little more than tarnishing the name of a classic. The major motivation for remakes tends to be vanity, as some arrogant director thinks that they can have a crack at their favourite film, Gus Van Sant please stand up. But he isn’t alone, even the normally Godlike Coen Brothers have fallen foul to the curse of the remake with the awful Tom Hanks version of the Ealing comedy The Lady Killers. A film which most devoted followers of the sibling auteurs would rather just pretend never happened, but it did, which is why the news that they were planning to remake the John Wayne classic True Grit was met with some trepidation.
But we need not have worried, rather than remaking the iconic film itself, the brothers have chosen to adapt the original 1968 novel by Charles Portis. Whilst fans of the film that won Wayne an Oscar for his portrayal of over the hill Marshal Rooster Cogburn will find the story of a determined fourteen year old girl hunting down her father’s killer familiar, this is very much its own film. Jeff Bridges plays Cogburn, but rather than impersonating the Duke he offers his own take on the brutal and often drunk lawman in his winter years. It’s more Bad Blake than Lebowski and he once again proves just how versatile an actor he is. Newcomer Hailee Steinfeld holds her own as Mattie Ross, the young girl who enlists Cogburn to help her find the villainous Tom Chaney, played by Josh Brolin. Rounding up the cast is Matt Damon giving yet another sterling performance as foolhardy Texas Ranger La Boeuf, who much to his chagrin must team with Cogburn and the young girl to find Chaney.
This really is a fantastic film on every level, not only is it brilliantly written and performed, it looks beautiful as well, capturing a moment in the landscape of American history with the same kind of poetic feel that made O Brother Where art Thou such a visual treat. The film stays truer to original text than its predecessor never shying away from the brutal nature of life on the frontier, but there are no cheap kills, every character has a part to play in this complex drama. What truly sets this film apart from any of the other Christmas/New Year/Oscar rush releases is the script, fans of the Coens will know what to expect but for those that still need convincing this film shows what true masters of the craft they are. Characters are well developed, funny, and utterly believable in their interaction which makes for an engrossing experience. Whilst the Wayne version will remain an iconic classic this slice of film perfection certainly deserves a place alongside it.
Review by Elliot Hyams