True Grit is one of the few Hollywood redoes that actually adds improvements to the original.
This is not to say this version by writers/directors Ethan and Joel Coen is better. It just adds a little more grit to the word “true.”
The Coens shoot from the hip and use gobs of the rustic, and quite entertaining old-west dialogue from the original screenplay and Charles Portis 1968 novel and Saturday Evening Post serial. They also stay more true to the Portis book than the John Wayne version.
Here’s the setup for those that haven’t seen the original. And if you haven’t, you should. Matte Ross’ father is murdered by the cowardly Tom Chaney. He steals the man’s horse and money, and then joins the notorious Ned Pepper in the Indian Territory of Oklahoma.
The 14-year-old and headstrong Ross hires Cogburn to go get him.
Cogburn is a hard drinking, shoot first, ask questions later lawman and not a man a proper young girl of that era would travel with. At the beginning of the hunt, Cogburn decides to team with a Texas Ranger known only as LaBoeuf. He has been tracking the killer for months.
Against their wishes, the stubborn Matte tags along.
Packing what looks like an extra 20 pounds, Jeff Bridges saddles up and gallops into dangerous territory and tries on John Wayne’s most famous role, Marshall Rooster Cogburn. The 1969 film is considered by many — this critic included — to be Wayne’s finest performance and one of the all-time best westerns.
Wayne’s best actor Golden Globe statue and an Oscar certainly cement the acting opinion.
Bridges is joined by Matt Damon who does LaBoeuf and newcomer Hailee Steinfeld as Matte Ross. Both are terrific but it is Bridges who steals the show.
As he gets older, doing larger-than-life seems to get easier. These days, Bridges could play a hitching post in a western and get rave reviews. Yet surface thinking says an attempt by the Dude to out-duke the Duke is doomed.
Bridges is a smart actor. Knowing he can’t outgun a legend, he doesn’t try to go one-up on Wayne. Bridges also doesn’t try to reinvent the character. Instead, he adds a dimension here and there, and his copycat performance turns out to be almost a tribute.
It definitely works.
By the way, when you really think about it, if you must redo True Grit and keep it fairly true to the original, Bridges is the only actor working today that can pull it off.
Mr. Movie rating: 4 1/2 stars
Rated PG-13 for mature themes and violence. It opened Wednesday, Dec. 22 at Regal’s Columbia Center 8 and at the Fairchild Cinemas 12.
5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen
4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.
3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on video.
2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.
0 stars: Speaks for itself.