The Coen Brothers' 2010 adaptation of the novel "True Grit" ensues following the murder of 14 year-old Mattie Ross' father. We first see Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) fresh off the train in search of her father's killer, a man by the name of Chaney (Josh Brolin). But first and most importantly, in search of the man who is going to help her catch him. After asking around town who the best man for the job might be, she is steered in the direction of Marshall Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges).
After collecting on some her father's horses, and somewhat dubiously for a 14 year-old child I might add, she takes the money and uses it to persuade - or vex, depending on how you look at it - Cogburn into agreeing to help her. With the help of a Texas Ranger named Laboeuf (Matt Damon), who is also out to collect a bounty on Chaney for the murder of a Texas statesman, the three embark on a journey to bring her father's killer to justice.
Both Cogburn and Laboeuf have their own unique connection with Ross. Laboeuf, the by-the-book Texas Ranger who is more of a father figure who cares more about Ross' safety and well-being than her feelings. And Cogburn, who is there strictly for Ross and more of a friend to her than anything. Together their relationship is reminiscent of the dynamic between the T-800 and John Connor in T2. He is there solely to help her, whereas Laboeuf could care less. In fact, Laboeuf would prefer she go home, but it is Cogburn who repeatedly comes to her defense. Repeatedly...and hilariously. But even though the relationship between Laboeuf and Ross is somewhat strained at times, like any father figure, he is there in the end when she - and Cogburn, for that matter - need him most.
The relationships forged between Ross and her two men soon transforms the entire movie. What was once a journey to find Chaney, becomes the story of a girl who lost her father - a man who was perfect in her eyes - and two not-so-perfect men circumstantially and temporarily filling the void. And even though neither can live up to the task individually, together they never let her down. Something that, as she mentions at the film's conclusion, she would never find in a man again.
As far as the direction...
The brilliance in the film can be measured in two areas. The first, as with every other work by the Coens, is their impeccable wit and approach to the writing of the regional dialect of whatever setting or people they happen to be working with. From Fargo, to Raising Arizona, to No Counrty, the writing of each character's dialogue is so impeccable that it ascends beyond the point of realism and into the realm of social satire. True Grit was no different. The second was the cinematography which was, quite simply, the best camera work the Coens have ever done.
As for the acting...
Matt Damon delivers what is easily the best character performance of his career. He along with Steinfeld, who was equally fabulous in her inaugural role, will and should be the deserved recipients of a couple of Oscar nominations. Other noteworthy performances include Josh Brolin and Barry Pepper, who were equally as fabulous as Damon and Steinfeld, if not for their feeble and, dare say, insignificant amount of screen time. That being said, the star of the show...was the star of the show.
Jeff Bridges' performance as the gritty, unpolished, rough-around-the edges Marshall Rooster Cogburn is, to put it simply, the best work of his brilliant career, and in my mind one that narrowly eclipses his role as Bad Blake in 2009's Crazy Heart. No one would argue that Bad Blake was easily Bridges' best role up to that point in his career, and 100% worthy and deserving of his first oscar. But there wasn't much ground Bridges' had to cover as an actor in order to portray the character. To put it simply, he was probably the best man for the role. Whereas his role as Rooster Cogburn could be likened to the Louis and Clark expeditions. No one knew where he was going or where he would take the character, much less following an on-screen legend like John Wayne, who many people were upset Bridges was replacing. But, as with the expeditions, the outcome was just as spectacular.
At no point in the film were we watching Bridges. He gave himself up entirely to the character so much to the point that he BECAME him. Bridges commands every scene as if walking into a room where everyone is talking and suddenly they all stop and look because they've never witnessed anything like it before. Every line is delivered so perfectly, that he leaves you hanging on his every word and quenches your desire just long enough to leaving you yearning for the next. It's as if every line were a punch line with Bridges continually delivering the knock out blow. There are few performances that deserve to be considered as the best of all time, and while there are a some in recent history I can think of that were probably better (Heath Ledger in 2008 and Daniel Day-Lewis in 2007), the performance by Jeff Bridges is definitely in the conversation.
Why this won't win Best Picture
The first few minutes of the film were less than sparkling to say the least. It was a decent enough intro, but it dragged on WAY too long considering we already knew the end result - eventually setting out in order to find Chaney. And coupled with the epilogue - which was equally less than stellar - it was like two subpar bookends of a book that's contents were otherwise perfect.
Overall, True Grit is as advertised. For the weary few who are concerned this movie is just a two hour trek across Indian Country, or that Bridges is a cheap reinterpretation of a character made famous by John Wayne, you couldn't be farther from the truth. This is essentially a character piece with one character at the center of everything. Say what you will about the other possible nominees, to think that Jeff Bridges may not win Best Actor because he won it last year is incomprehensible to say the least.
*Remember I rate on a scale of 4. I know it's odd, but I prefer the 4 star system.