Joel and Ethan Coen (Fargo, Blood Simple, No Country for Old Men) have brought us the splendid Old West story of Mattie Ross, a girl of unrelenting resolve and moxie played by 14-year-old Hailee Steinfeld in a breakthrough performance. Without her performance, the movie could not have been the success that it is, and Steinfeld has no problem standing up to the likes of Jeff Bridges, Josh Brolin and Matt Damon. Mattie’s merciless smarts and resourcefulness become clear in her negotiations with prairie mogul Col. Stonehill (magnificently played by Dakin Matthews).
Jeff Bridges is perfect as the hilarious, oft-besotted and frequently lethal Rooster Cogburn. Damon, Brolin and the rest of the cast are excellent, especially Matthews and Barry Pepper.
This film is made from the same source material as, but is not a remake of, the 1969 John Wayne oater (a movie that I particularly dislike). The 1969 film is burdened by a hammy effort by Wayne and the miscast and untalented Kim Darby (playing a 14-year-old at 22) and Glenn Campbell.
The film opens (without title credits) with the old hymn Leaning on the Everlasting Arms, signaling that the Coen Brothers will play True Grit absolutely straight within the traditional Western genre – no ironic winks at the audience.