Star rating – 8/10
The Coen brothers claim not to have produced a remake of the 1969 John Wayne classic, but instead to have gone back to the source material itself and to the novel of Charles Portis. Not having seen the original movie, or read the book, it was all fresh to my eyes anyhow. The story in their version is narrated by Mattie Ross and told very much from her perspective.
Mattie is a fourteen year old girl bent on justice for her murdered father – which she sees as capturing his killer, Tom Chaney, and letting him hang. And despite all the plaudits surrounding the performance of Coen brothers’ favourite Jeff Bridges as the grizzly old, liquor soaked, marshal Rooster Cogburn, with a reputation for being particularly mean, who Mattie seeks out to help her with her quest, it is Hailee Steinfield as Mattie who walks off as the real star of the piece by a wild west country mile. Towards the start of the film she needs to get her hands on some money to be able to pay Cogburn and persuade him to undertake the dangerous task, and the powers of persuasion that she uses to get her little hands on the money have to be seen to be believed.
Bridges plays old Rooster as a very rough and tough character, sometimes so gruff it is hard to follow what he is saying. And mention must also be made of Matt Damon, who is a revelation as the Texan lawman LaBoeuf, who is also on the trail of Tom Chaney. Mattie embarks on the quest with these two unlikely companions, even though at first she is not a welcome guest on the trail, and the story is essentially one of the triangular relationship which develops between the three along the way. She picks Rooster for his true grit, but it is Mattie herself who displays such remarkable tenacity, stubbornness, and bravery that the title must surely refer to her.
The cinematography is stunning, with the harsh winter of Indian country shown to great effect. It is a violent and harsh film, but a fairly uncomplicated story with a predictable ending. It’s certainly not the best Coen brothers’ film, lacking the originality, twists, and humour of ‘Fargo’; and the thrills and brilliance of ‘No Country For Old Men’, but it is by no means their worst, and many, many times better than their last spectacularly off the mark effort, ‘A Serious Man’. It is not immediately obvious why they wanted to remake this classic film, or to make another film of this book- whichever way you want to look at it – but this is a brilliantly acted and thoroughly enjoyable film, which is sure to make a deserved star out of the wonderful Hailee Steinfield.