Faithful fans of the 1969 version of True Grit may question the validity of a remake, especially that of an already successful adaptation. Crucially, True Grit, the Coen Brothers’ latest release, is not a mere remake of the earlier version, but rather an adaptation of the novel itself. Notably, and entirely to the Coens’ credit, their adaptation of the novel not only succeeds in feeling unquestionably and completely necessary, despite the existence of the previous film, but also manages to surpass the original’s efforts.
After her father is murdered by hired hand Tom Chaney, Mattie Ross, played with gusto by newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, determines to seek out Chaney and obtain the justice she so desperately desires. Whilst the audience may initially fear for Ross, she possesses an emotional maturity and a quick-intelligence that belies her young years.
Mattie seeks to employ a Deputy U.S. Marshal, to aid her objective in bringing Chaney to justice. In searching for a suitable Marshal, Mattie questions which Marshal she should employ. She is informed which man is considered the best tracker, which the meanest, and finally which can be considered the best: Mattie duly seeks out the meanest: Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), a man who can lay claim to killing twenty-three men.
Rooster’s consistent state of inebriation does little to dissuade Mattie; she places her confidence in Cogburn’s reputation. In her search for Chaney, who after her father’s murder has escaped into Choctaw territory and thus beyond the reach of the law, Mattie comes into contact with Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), who is too searching for Chaney, hoping to bring him to justice for an another unrelated murder. Mattie’s hope for justice to be served is unquenchable, so much so that she insists on accompanying the pair in this dangerous venture.
Every aspect of the film is undeniably flawless. Roger Deakins’s cinematography beautifully captures the brutal and desolate nature of the world in which these characters exist. The acting too is wonderful, and whilst Matt Damon and Jeff Bridges’s efforts are truly admirable, it is without doubt Haliee Steinfeld’s film. From her first appearance on screen, her portrayal of Mattie Ross engages the audience, holding the audience’s attention throughout. Her Mattie may at times be almost irritating in her earnestness, but such is the skill of Steinfeld’s characterisation, that her Mattie is never anything but sympathetic.
In a beautifully realised scene, Mattie, in preparing for her journey, places her father’s far too large hat on her young head, wonderfully conveying in that moment, just how truly young Mattie is. Up till this point, her determination, so contradictory to her youth may persuade the audience that she is somehow infallible: she has easily talked her way into besting any adult she comes into contact with. Here, the Coens remind its audience just what Mattie is: a fourteen-year-old girl without a father and a seemingly ineffectual mother, who tellingly, never appears.
Whilst it may be too early to hail True Grit as a modern classic, it would not be overly presumptuous to do so.True Grit is truly a perfect film, ranking highly in the Coens’ already admirable accolades.