Having only just finished Charles Portis' classic tale of revenge, I made immediate arrangements to see the Coen's latest, and boy was it worth the wait. After their dabble in the Western genre with the fantastic adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's No Country For Old Men, Joel and Ethan have created something of a gem, an instant classic.
Now, for all the John Wayne fans seething through gritted teeth and sighing at the mere mention of an updated version of the 1962 classic, I will openly and happily admit that the Coen's latest rendition of True Grit surpasses the ol' classic in all categories - the cinematography, the acting, the dialogue and the overall low-down and dirty "grit" of the tale. Needless to say, Hathaway's version was a great film, although still not quite to the standard of the Leone films being churned out in sixties Hollywood, namely my favourite Western Once Upon A Time In The West. The Coen Brothers don't have the same competition, they have proven with both their homages to the old west that they are the best at the genre working in Hollywood today, only rivalled by John Hillcoat's brutally riveting The Proposition (and The Road had a Western feel).
True Grit (2011) is a momentous film, and when reading the book it even felt like a Coen's script - all the nuances and mundanely interesting dialogue ubiquitous in their films. Jeff Bridges truly embodies the craggy one-eyed Marshall Reuben "Rooster" Cogburn, and his support from Matt Damon as Texan Ranger "LaBeouf" (said La-Beef) is a performance that only accentuates the strength of these two leads. Of course, the real scene-stealer is unknown Hailee Steinfeld as the protagonist and narrator of the tale, Mattie Ross, whose father's murder they are on a crusade to avenge. Mattie stands on her own two feet as the wily and astonishingly mature pioneer of the expedition, who has hired Rooster for his "true grit". As those of you who have read the book or seen the film will know, it is she who really demonstrates this "grit", and at no point does she jeopordise her fervent moral code and upright stance amidst the seedy underbelly of ruthless violence and unwaivering punishment.
As expected from the Coens after No Country, the cinematograpy is superb, the best scene witnessing our two heroes (Matties and Rooster) waiting on their horses in the snow as what appears to be a bear riding a horse creeps towards them with a calm trot that usually precedes a full-on gun fight. Similarly, there is also a great shot of Rooster's back as he waits mounted for a final confrontation with "Lucky" Ned Pepper's gang, waiting as silouhettes across the plain.
The backdrop is spectacular; the Coens have really doused themselves in Leone, Hawks and Peckinpah - the maestros of cinematic Western. Fort Smith feels like a toned-down version of Deadwood (from the same-named TV series) with Chinese opium smokers sharing bunks with redneck cowboys. It is simply a feast for the eyes and so utterly enjoyable that you will instantly want to see it again. It will be very hard for 2011 to produce a movie that ticks the boxes of adventure, drama, comedy and thriller so enthusiastically well as this. Go see it.