Movie fans will recall an ageing John Wayne who portrayed Rooster Cogburn on the screen in True Grit and won an Oscar for Best Actor. The Rooster of the book is much younger, in his late forties, a fat, one eyed, drunk, with a chilling gaze, malarial and unwashed most of the time.
Jeff Bridges is the Rooster of the book to a T and his is a much more realistic, gripping portrait than that of John Wayne. Fourteen year old Mattie Ross has decided that Rooster has the true grit to bring the killer of her murdered father to justice, and she is coming along whether he wants her to or not. If he won’t deal with the killer, she is prepared to do the job herself. Matt Damon is convincing as the vain, good looking Texas Ranger, La Boeuf, clanking along in his huge Texas spurs who has tracked the killer of Mattie’s father over several states, and so plans to team up with Rooster to bring in killer Matt Chaney for a fat fee.
The book has been described as a minor masterpiece and I couldn’t put it down. It is narrated by an older Mattie throughout and her matter-of-fact description of shootings, stabbings and public hangings are larded with pious quotations from the scriptures. Her blunt, unsentimental account of events is droll and unintentionally hilarious. Mattie may be only fourteen, but she is no fool and can haggle like a man, as her poker face and narrowed eyes indicate. Actress Hailee Steinfeld is a revelation as Mattie, formidable and relentless in her desire for retribution.
The photography is as stark and bare and rivetting as the script, as the three of them enter treacherous territory, rife with killers and savage Indians. As Rooster and La Boeuf show off and bicker like kids, it is almost as though Mattie is the parent keeping them in order, with her mind set like a steel trap on the task. The outstanding thing about Mattie is her burning need for justice and her black and white vision of right and wrong.
This film is a simple and sincere story, biblical in its sense of vengeance. It is the best western I have ever seen. This is a remake that is definitely better than the original. Sorry everyone, but I think it should win Best Picture at the Oscars and Jeff Bridges should win Best Actor.