True Grit (2011) Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. With Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin and Hailee Steinfeld.
So…it turns out they do make ’em like they used to! More than that – they make ’em better. I recall seeing Jeff Bridges interviewed by Jonathan Ross around a year before the True Grit remake was released, and what stuck in my mind was just how apprehensive Ross was about a film he cherished so dearly being remade. It’s an uncertainty I understand wholeheartedly. Hollywood has bad previous when it comes to remaking much loved classics. It’s pleasing to say then that the Coen brothers’ update is an unmitigated success on every level. This is a film that firmly intends to stand in its own cowboy boots without any fear of being overshadowed by what went before – and it does so with assurance and genuine conviction.
From the first few frames, it’s abundantly clear that the period detail and production values have been painstakingly researched and attended to. The Coen brothers have never been conventional film makers and it’s refreshing to see them coupling modern film making techniques with the pacing and feel of an old fashioned studio western. It’s almost as if the Coen’s are saying, “Remember all those cowboy films from the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s? This is how they might look if the same directors made them now.
Filmed between New Mexico and Texas, it’s a grand-looking film with strong biblical undertones that lend heft amid the themes of redemption and Godlessness. Performance-wise – words can’t do it justice. The trio of turns from Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Hailee Steinfeld are all fascinating and multi-layered. Bridges is truly gritty as he grunts and growls his way through the majority of the film, and although it’s not always possible to make out exactly what he’s saying all of the time- it’s getting the general gist that really counts. Eye patch aside, it’s a million miles from the John Wayne performance and all the better for it.
It’d be convenient to simply make a list of comparisons when discussing a remake – but that wouldn’t be doing sufficient justice to what is a confidently made western that recalls a bygone era, while ensuring that it operates on its own free terms. 4.5/5