Restores your faith in re-makes,
This review is from: True Grit [DVD] (2010) (DVD)
Do you remember the good old days before Hollywood became obsessed with remaking old films? If you do then you have a selective memory. The classic version of The Maltese Falcon with Humphrey Bogart was the third time it had been filmed. More often than not re-makes are underwhelming, whatever calibre the makers have. The Coen Brothers may be darlings of the film critics, but their version of The Ladykillers was soundly panned - and rightly so. Therefore the landslide of Oscars that No Country For Old Men earned the Coens wouldn't have erased fears that taking on the John Wayne classic True Grit could end in tears.
The story is simple enough. A young girl engages the services of crotchety old lawman Rooster Cogburn to hunt down her Father's killer. Jeff Bridges takes on the role of Cogburn, with his rambling, barely coherent drawl acting like a background rumble that permeates the soundtrack. The performance captures the arrogance, pig-headedness and indignity of a great man gone to seed, without forgetting that there is still a great man in there. Cogburn is also a fully functioning character within the drama rather than just a scene stealing Oscar-bait turn.
The film pivots around Hailee Steinfield's performance as the vengeful daughter. She received an Oscar nomination and critical adulation for her confident, fast talking performance. The early scene where she runs rings round a local tradesman is a joyous example of youth trumping experience. Before we get too carried away it's worth remembering that MacCauley Culkin did a similar thing in Uncle Buck. In the end talented young actors often excel at assurance.
Elsewhere Matt Damon is reduced to cameo role, which given the number of blockbusters he heads up shows the esteem the Coens were held in. The conversational riffs on machismo are reminiscent of the drunken conversations on the Orca in Jaws. This balance of humour and pathos combines with a refreshing light touch on character flaws - there is no clanging moment of awareness or redemption to make it all feel like a cheap cornball tale. The stately camerawork and interesting wardrobe choices call to mind the last great western - The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford. It may not justify the heretically poor re-makes that all too often clog up the multiplexes, but True Grit reminds us that not all re-makes should be tarred with the same brush.