Reliance Home Video, R599
The words ‘Coen Brothers’ don't immediately conjure up the Western film genre. And yet last year’s multi-Oscar-nominated True Grit is more faithful to the 1968 novel of the same name by Charles Portis than the 1969 John Wayne-starring original in its cinematic treatment of a growing up-cum-search story. At the centre of the film is 14-year-old Mattie who, in the ‘wild western’ landscape of late 19th century America, is hunting down the killer of her father.
Played with astonishing maturity by debutante Hailee Steinfeld, Mattie is the real possessor of ‘true grit’ with her braided, black-skirted Protestant ethic and no-nonsense approach that constantly cloaks her vulnerability. She takes the help of an ageing, drunkard of a US marshal, Reuben Cogburn to bring the murderer (Josh Brolin) to justice. Jeff Bridges as Cogburn plays the role that he was made to play — a man with a past (both more glorious as well as scandalous), his eyepatch fitting as snugly as the language he uses. Matt Damon as Texas ranger LaBoeuf also joins in the hunt, his dandy-ish character coming as a foil to the tobacco-chomping, hygienically challenged Cogburn.
There is a dust layer of humour sprinkled through this ‘classical’ Western (that counter-subverts the spaghetti Westerns of the 60s). From the start when we hear Mattie’s voiceover till the end when we meet her again 25 years later at Cogburn’s grave, the main story of a child seeking retribution is twisted and turned, courtesy Joel and Ethan Coen’s story (re) telling style, as dynamics between humans in a hostile world. The special features in this DVD include a revealing behind-the-scenes documentary, not to mention the fun of hearing how a ‘different kind’ of Western was conceived and made.