Ride the Coens’ country
Direction: Joel and Ethan Coen
Cast: Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld
Back in 1969, John Wayne earned his only Oscar for portraying an ageing, one-eyed marshal in a wishy-washy adaptation of the cowboy novel by cult author, Charles Portis.
Gratifyingly the update, written and directed by the Coen brothers (No Country For Old Men) treats the source material with greater fidelity. The outcome is an old-fashioned adventure that’s reflective, funny and atmospheric.
Embracing the style of the traditional westerns, True Grit re-tells the story from the perspective of the 14-year-old girl (TV actress Steinfeld, in an assured feature film debut) determined to track down and bring her father’s murderer to justice.
The pigtailed teenager hires a grizzled lawman (last year’s Best Actor Academy Award- winner Bridges who — trivia alert — sports a patch on his right eye unlike Wayne who wore it over the left eye) to help nab the killer.
Perpetually sozzled, the trigger-happy marshal reluctantly allows her to accompany him on manhunt through hostile territory. They are joined by a Texas Ranger (Matt Damon) who’s also in pursuit of the outlaw.
Dwelling on the complexities of the relationship between the unlikely trio, the languidly-paced narrative winds down in an elegiac coda. In addition, the rugged late-19th century frontier setting is breathtaking. Photographed in burnished tones by the Coens’ regular cinematographer Roger Deakins and extremely well-acted (especially by Jeff Bridges), True Grit serves as a reminder on the pleasures of the near-extinct genre of the westerns. Saddle up, then, for one helluva ride.