There have been many remakes on movie screens recently and rarely are they as good as the original or even good at all. But then again, most remakes are not directed by the Coen brothers or have Jeff Bridges in the lead role. "True Grit" is not only the best Western to come out this year, but may be one of the best, if not the best movie this year.
The film centers on a 14-year-old girl, Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), who decides to avenge the death of her father by bringing the man who killed him to justice. Ah, nothing like a good, old-fashioned revenge Western. Steinfeld, a young and relatively new actress, is terrific in her role and able to go toe-to-toe with her older co-stars.
The man she is trying to track down is Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), and the man she hires to track him down is Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges). Rooster is an old, grizzled, drunk U.S. marshal, but he is also the toughest man for the job. As the withered gunslinger, who was played by John Wayne in the original, Bridges gives a powerful performance as a stubborn old man reluctantly waiting for a chance to redeem himself. Cogburn learns that Chaney has joined a dangerous band of outlaws led by Lucky Ned Pepper (Barry Pepper), and so he teams up with a Texas ranger named LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) to help him. Damon is great, too, and he provides the majority of the comic relief in the film.
The heart of the film is the father-daughter relationships that Mattie forms with both Cogburn and LaBoeuf as they set off to track down Chaney. Cogburn and LaBoeuf leave without their 14-year-old employer, but, of course, being headstrong, independent and thirsty for justice, she follows them.
The film follows the trio as they travel through the blistering sun and snowy nights of old 19th century Western plains. We witness the turmoil that they go through: shootouts, interrogations, petty arguments and snakes. The story is simple, there is no mind-bending plot twist and no ulterior motives, but that, too, is one of the things that make it so great and so refreshing. There are violent and suspenseful parts, but there is no action for the sake of action, and the film is truly about redemption.
This "True Grit" stays closer to the novel than the original film. Of course, those more accustomed to the John Wayne original may be wary of seeing this film. Give it a chance, whether you are a fan of the original movie, the book, or neither one, whether you love Westerns, despise them, or are indifferent to them. With great performances, sharp direction and writing from the Coen brothers, and beautiful cinematography, the film is not one to miss.
It is by far one of the best movies of the year. It's a groundbreaking human drama, a rarity these days, and a remake that actually surpasses the original, a near impossibility these days.
Alexander Randazzo is a junior at City Honors.
4 stars (out of 4)