It takes one star and one star only to carry a movie and entice an audience. In the 2010 remake of True Grit, that star is Hailee Steinfeld. Now, mind you, at 14 years old, she’s a faint star… but a star nonetheless. I believe the little girl’s got enough talent to fuel a bright career in Hollywood.
In the Coen brothers’ new movie, Steinfeld was given the role of Mattie Ross, a sharp-witted, brave young girl who seeks to avenge her father’s death. I don’t think the role was extremely demanding per se, but that’s not her fault. Her expressionless stare is interrupted only by moments of distress and panic, when she acts convincingly intimidated. Her resoluteness, however, was solid and intense. If she can play comic roles as well as she can play dramatic ones, we will be seeing more of her for decades to come.
Most of the movie’s appeal should be credited, if not to Steinfeld, then to the character she was playing. Mattie Ross evokes interest. She’s a strong, peculiar girl right from get-go when she refuses to kiss her dad’s body, claiming that the soul had departed. She also becomes a merchant’s worst nightmare because damn this girl can haggle. Mattie is important to the movie because she sets the story in motion and refuses to detach from it. She hires Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to pursue and kill her dead’s assassin, Tom Chaney (Josh Broslin). Mattie goes with him.
Along comes La Boeuf (Matt Damon), whose purpose on the movie is almost negligible. As the script was written, La Boeuf seems needed but not really organic to the plot. He comes always on the right moment to do the right things… or the right moments to do the wrong things depending on what the writers need him to. He feels like an effortless device employed to make the story function as the writers desire. For me, the movie would work better with more emphasis on the relationship between Mattie and Cogburn, without distractions over petty arguments between Cogburn and La Boeuf. And Cogburn need not be drinking as well.
The first part of True Grit introduces us to this amazing character, Mattie, and her objective. The third part delivers what was promised; I wasn’t disappointed. However, the middle portion feels like a pointless ramble, filled up of Cogburn’s babbling. The Coen brothers know how to write dialogue, hence the speeches aren’t awfully boring, but some are not needed. At its core, True Grit is another cat-and-mouse movie. The main difference being Mattie, who provides a grain of novelty to an overused formula.
True Grit feels nothing like a Coen brothers movie. This is a classic Western in every aspect. I recommend it.