Guys with guns, girls with guts 

The Coen Brothers’ newest Western is their most old-fashioned yet

click to enlarge 1081136.jpg

True Grit

5 Stars


If the Coen Brothers’ rightfully acclaimed No Country for Old Men was a 1980s-style Western all about the toll that evil takes on good men, then their often exciting and occasionally eccentric True Grit is an 1880s-style Western all about the cost of retribution against those doers of wicked deeds.

And who better to pursue the wicked than a 14-year-old girl? Mattie Ross (newcomer Hailee Steinfeld) has been left fatherless after a drunken and belligerent Tom Chaney (No Country’s Josh Brolin) shot Daddy down in cold blood. Since no one can be bothered to chase him down and bring him to justice, she decides to hire the toughest U.S. Marshal in town, one-eyed Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), and then follows him into the Choctaw nation to find Chaney before a Texas Ranger by the name of LaBeouf (Matt Damon) can haul him back to Texas to punish him for crimes there.

The Coens adhere much closer to Charles Portis’ novel than the 1969 adaptation could claim to, relishing the era-appropriate 
language as if it were their own tongue (Rooster’s “been known to pull a cork”) and imbuing the proceedings with a romantic, ultimately melancholy sense of adventure. As shot and scored by Roger Deakins and Carter Burwell, respectively, the ambience is unsurprisingly gorgeous and grand. Better yet, Bridges fills John Wayne’s boots well – perhaps even better than the Duke did – portraying Cogburn as the morally shaky but awfully determined man that he is. Matching him beat for stubborn beat is Steinfeld, 
giving a terrifically tenacious debut performance and holding her own opposite both outdated language and a considerably 
capable cast.

The brothers also develop the film’s dynamic 
into something more interesting than simplistic surrogate father-daughter relationships. Mattie claims that she’s looking for a man with the eponymous quality, but what she really wants is a man who can do what she can’t. Cogburn’s killed many white men, kicked many Indians and even robbed a bank, and maybe half a dozen different life choices prevented him from being the very man that Mattie is hunting down. If Rooster is what Mattie might have become – a sour agent of so-called justice – then Chaney is what Rooster himself might’ve been, a walking temper with a quick trigger finger and little conscience to bear.

The violence, once it erupts, is terse but bloody. Thankfully, the humor is much more constant, especially as an insecure LaBeouf tries to compete with and compare to a young girl and an old buzzard; Damon acts his part well, every bit as inflated, defeated and determined as his co-stars. Brolin plays the big bad Chaney as a sad sack more in line with many prior Coen protagonists than antagonists. Barry Pepper is unrecognizable and just right as “Lucky” Ned Pepper, gang leader to Chaney and an old foe of Cogburn’s.

In many ways, the Coens’ newest Western is their most old-fashioned yet. It’s got good guys hunting down bad guys; it’s got the good sense to know just how close any man (or girl) is to being one over the other.

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Orlando Weekly. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Orlando Weekly, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at

Orlando Weekly works for you, and your support is essential.

Our small but mighty local team works tirelessly to bring you high-quality, uncensored news and cultural coverage of Central Florida.

Unlike many newspapers, ours is free – and we'd like to keep it that way, because we believe, now more than ever, everyone deserves access to accurate, independent coverage of their community.

Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing pledge, your support helps keep Orlando’s true free press free.

More by William Goss


Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

Read the Digital Print Issue

April 14, 2021

View more issues


© 2021 Orlando Weekly

Website powered by Foundation