The Coen brothers have already shown that there's life in this 'old horse' and that Western characters can still rattle and hiss on-screen like a viper's nest. Javier Bardem's poisonous performance as Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men was proof beyond doubt that Western villains were still relevant and engaging, even in a contemporary American setting. True Grit, although taking us back to a more classic Old West, is further evidence that this big American stud ain't winded yet.
Like all good Westerns, this is a story of retribution and redemption. The story unfolds as Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) remembers her quest to avenge the murder of her father at the hands of the outlaw, Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin). Her search for vengeance leads her to U.S. Marshall Reuben 'Rooster' Cogburn, whom she enlists to find Chaney and bring him to justice.
True Grit is the story of Mattie's 'coming of age' as much as it is her search for vengeance. She takes comfort from the father-figures that her companions grow to become as she tries to escape a life of stifling decency that waits to imprison her on her return home. This is the only glimpse into the world of 'real' men that she might ever get and she is stubborn enough to believe that she has what it takes to live in this world. She intends to immortalize her father's name by casting his lore with men who have 'true grit' and serve justice.
Steinfeld's performance is brilliant as the irritating and eloquent Mattie, but it was her closing chapter that felt the most awkward and poorly handled in the film. It never really felt clear whether she found what she was looking for and the ending felt rushed and insensitive. Although it was her story, it never felt like she was the star and I found Rooster's search for redemption more engaging than Mattie's journey to avenge her father.
Perhaps the most surprising performance comes from Matt Damon as Texas Ranger LaBoeuf. He is immediately endearing, ambiguous and charismatic and Bridges and Damon sparkle in a double-act that supplies comic relief, perfectly balanced with a camaraderie that men with 'grit' entrust their survival to. Damon is the perfect supporting actor never stealing the lime-light, but beautifully countering the drunken and volatile Rooster. I wouldn't be surprised to see Damon nominated for Best Supporting Role at this year's Oscars.