I’m not really sure what I saw, but it was damn entertaining, I’ll tell you that.
Seriously, though, I’m trying to figure out whether True Grit was really as straightforward as it seemed. The Coen brothers are usually a bit trickier than this, but perhaps I’m letting their most recent picture, A Serious Man, overly influence my thinking. If I were forced to use other Coens as a guideline, I would say True Grit is like a cross between the violence of No Country for Old Men and the verbiage of Oh Brother Where Art Thou, without the former’s heavy philosophical nature or the latter’s literary allusions and banjo music.
The chief attractions here are the cinematography and the dialogue. On the first count, the film just looks great. The town of Fort Smith, where Mattie Ross arrives to handle his father’s funeral arrangements, looks incredibly authentic, from the dilapidated general stores to the disreputable saloon outhouse where Mattie and the audience first encounter Jeff Bridges’ Rooster Cogburn (in voice only, thankfully.)
The dialogue is highly stylized, and archly conservative, especially coming from Mattie. Hailee Steinfeld does a better job at her line readings than you would ever expect from a 14-year-old. But even Rooster and Matt Damon’s Texas Ranger LaBeouf (pronounced, by him, as LaBeef) speak in unusual dictions.
Bridges and Damon are clearly having a lot of fun with their characters, and that sense of amusement is shared by the audience. There are more laughs than you might expect in a tale of vengeance, and most of them come from the absurdity of the situation and Rooster’s deadpan reactions.
The ending was a little more conventional than Coen brothers fans are used to, a fact which will come as a relief to all those frustrated by the ambivalence at the close of No Country for Old Men. Overall, I think I will need to see the film multiple times to fully gauge where it stands in the brothers’ canon, but it remains a fine entertainment on its own.