I expected True Grit to be a great movie. I expected it to be
extraordinarily well-cast. I expected it to be bloody. But I did not
expect for it to be so damn funny. The film is loaded with a very dry
and sarcastic wit, the dialogue at least half-full of some very clever
put-downs. Our main characters are all very smart and sharp-tongued, but
just as importantly, they have the brass to back up their tough talk.

To be perfectly clear, this is not an excessively gory movie or one
that delights in showing the murder onscreen. In fact, the gunfights are
pretty straightforward: A gun goes bang, a guy falls dead and that’s
the end of it. Yes, the film is a revenge story that demands our
antagonist die, but this movie is not about the action. It’s about three
hardasses who bicker and banter as they form an unlikely alliance to
hunt down a common enemy. And one of their number is a fourteen-year-old

In a year that’s already seen the discoveries of such talented young
starlets as Chloe Moretz and Jennifer Lawrence, we can now add Hailee
Steinfield to that list as well. I’ve been hearing a lot of buzz for
Steinfield to get a Best Supporting Actress nod, but anything less than a
nom for Best Actress would be a sham (I know she’d still lose to
Natalie Portman and God knows I wouldn’t complain about that, but come
on!). She constantly drives the plot forward as protagonist Mattie Ross,
appearing in every one of the movie’s scenes. Far more importantly, she
plays her role with greater strength and intelligence than most of the
adults in the picture. Mattie has her moments of vulnerability and the
movie never completely forgets that she’s just a girl in her early
teens, but Mattie is also headstrong and able to get herself out of any
argument or predicament through sheer determination alone. Steinfield
plays all of this so damn well that she can more than hold her own
against such seasoned vets as Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon. If that’s not
a mark of talent in a teenaged newcomer, I don’t know what is.

Speaking of Jeff Bridges, he is of course phenomenal. Bridges plays
Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn as a true shitkicker. This guy simply does not
give a fuck. He’s overflowing with attitude and drunkenness in equal
measure, all backed by a mean tongue and a talented (if unsteady) hand
with a gun. But of course, the true test and the ultimate summation of
his performance here is in how he handled this scene. He
was charged with delivering that famous line without resorting to
parody or imitation of the legendary John Wayne in his Oscar-winning
role. That’s a very tall order, even for such a great acting talent as
Bridges, but don’t think that he can’t do it. He did it. Just wait until
you see how he did it. In fact, I guarantee you that if John Wayne
hadn’t already made that line famous, Jeff Bridges would have (though
I’ll grant that the score in the background may have helped him a bit).

As for Matt Damon, he gets the thankless role of playing the straight
man against Bridges. These two men are totally different in their
styles and agendas, particularly as Damon’s Texas Ranger LaBoeuf is much
more sober and concerned with the law than Cogburn is. The two spend
most of their screen time figuratively comparing dicks, though these are
two actors who know how to constantly bicker in a way that’s fun to
watch, especially when the dialogue is written this well. Their shooting
contest with cornbread pigeons is probably my favorite example of a
scene that would totally fall flat but for the beautiful symphony of
talent that makes it amusing to watch.

Josh Brolin is also in this movie as their target, the notorious man
who goes by Tom Chaney, among other names. I was expecting Brolin to
play a truly awesome cowboy, partly to atone for Jonah Hex.
Instead, Brolin does something very different here. He doesn’t get a lot
of screentime or character development as Chaney is mostly an offscreen
presence, though a very effective one. Still, Brolin does make an
impression, playing Chaney as if desperate for money or shelter from the
law. Moreover, Chaney is rather blatantly portrayed as someone who
doesn’t have all his marbles, though it’s quite a matter of ambiguity if
this stupidity is simply part of Chaney’s act.

I feel I should also mention Barry Pepper, who has a small yet
serviceably played part as the gangster “Lucky” Ned Pepper. I admit that
I’ve taken a shine to Pepper (the actor) ever since I saw his
outstanding turn in Saving Private Ryan. Now, seeing him get such
plum roles as those in Casino Jack, the videogame “Prototype”
and in this film, I’m personally sort of glad to see that he’s done
serving his time for Battlefield: Earth. I think it will be quite
interesting to see where his career will go from here.

Anyway, I’ve already spoken at length about the Coen Brothers’ script
and how the dialogue is so sharp and so funny. Yet part of what makes
the script so great is in the editing. This film is edited in such a way
that it seems like the guy in the editing booth was in on the joke.
Half of this movie’s humor is in how the film cuts away precisely at the
most embarrassing time possible. It’s like the cutaway is the scene’s
punchline. Additionally, the editor works wonderfully with the Coen
Brothers to keep the film tightly paced and moving at a solid clip
through the complete running time. To that end, I give major kudos to
the editor, Mister… *goes to check IMDB* Roderick Jaynes, who is
actually a pseudonym for Joel and Ethan Coen. Why am I even surprised?

As to the visuals, this film has camera work by Roger Deakins. He’s
easily one of the best cinematographers in the business and he can do no
wrong when paired with the Coens. What more do I need to say?

True Grit is a sardonically funny movie powered by two
phenomenal actors, a young newcomer on her way to greatness and two
directors at the top of their game. It’s an amazing movie and I highly
recommend it.