If you had asked me a month, maybe even a couple of weeks ago what my favorite film of the year was going to be, without hesitation I would have said Christopher Nolan’s Inception. I knew that Tron Legacy and True Grit were coming up, and I had a feeling that the latter had a good chance of making my top ten or even my top five, but I had no idea it had this great of a chance. In fact, it might just be giving Inception a good run for its money. This is one of my favorites of the year, and with a flawless script, unrivaled performances, cinematography beyond compare, and unsurpassable action to boot, it’s what I and many others might call a perfect film. The film takes place shortly after the Civil War in the Mid-West, where Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), a 14-year-old girl out for revenge for her father’s murder by the coward John Chaney (Josh Brolin), enters a dangerous world of murder and betrayal in order to avenge his death. She enlists the help of Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), a frequently inebriated and trigger-happy marshal, and local Texas Ranger Labeouf (Matt Damon) who is out to bring Chaney in dead or alive for his own reward. Few films are blessed with casts like True Grit is given to work with here. A lot of Oscar buzz is going around about newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, and it’s well deserved. The best part of her performance isn’t just how she reads her lines or how she could very well be the best cinematic role model for pre-teen girls in the past decade, but just how she fearlessly takes on Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon, two acting legends, throughout the movie. Steinfeld plays the part to perfection, reading each line in such a fluent way it seems like she was born to do it, and excellently complimenting the Coens second to none interchange. Made all the more amazing by the fact she’s a first-timer, anything less than an Oscar nomination would be a disgrace. Steinfeld’s performance on its own would make the film, but she’s accompanied by a surplus of awesome performances. Matt Damon does a grand job at playing the part of Labeouf and carries some of the movie’s best comedic moments, and Josh Brolin (with what screen time he’s given) gives the role of John Chaney all he’s got, infusing humor and an often times darker, scarier, quick-to-violence side to his character. Barry Pepper, who’s been known for smaller parts like in The Green Mile, is 100% unrecognizable as Ned Pepper, the disfigured leader of Chaney’s gang. This best way I can describe the guy is the film’s Darth Sidious. He’s literally behind every evil deed of the film. From the first moment he steps on screen the combo of the actor’s demeanor and the script lets evil ooze out of each of his pores. Even in his first few seconds of screen time when you’re not quite sure who he is or what he’s up to, you know he’s the embodiment of evil, and you’re just wishing for him to get on the wrong end of Rooster Cogburn’s six shooter. Speaking of the one-eyed marshal, Jeff Bridges’ performance for the film was the main draw to bring me into the film, and it’s the acting glue that not only holds the film together but also puts it over the top. Jeff Bridges brings so much experience to the part to give Rooster Cogburn a 100% genuine feel. There’s not a second that you doubt anything that comes out of Cogburn’s mouth. His at-times incomprehensible drawl did cause me to miss a few things that he said, but he carries so much of the film’s action and drama on his shoulders so perfectly, it’s impossible for me to explain how brilliant his performance is. There are also a number of smaller roles thrown in seemingly just for fun by the Coens. Even though they’re 3-5 minutes (at most) at a time, it’s almost like a time trial to see how rich of a character they can create.There are films that I can enjoy based off how technically proficient the film is or how well the films works as a comedy or an action film. It’s rare that a film works perfectly as both like True Grit. Back during the development of the film the Coens encouraged the cast to not watch the original John Wayne film, and having seen small pieces of the original, it obviously benefits the movie, as it’s almost an entirely different feature. The script is one of the main things about the film that really sets it apart. Just hearing Rooster Cogburn and Lucky Ned or Labeouf and Ross exchange dialogue is one of the film’s most entertaining aspects by a long shot. The Coens wrote the film in such an engaging and beautiful way it’s almost Shakespearean. The old-timey dialogue gives you such an indication of the world that they live in, something incredibly rare to see in a film. Just like in the Coens’ modern classic No Country for Old Men, my favorite film from 2007 and a Best Picture winner, it has that true Coens vibe, deftly mixing wit, surprising humor, and at the same time each and every line benefiting the story in some way. Each conversation, with a couple special scenes in particular like the “pony deal” at the beginning of the film, can be as exciting and genuine as 3/4 of this past summer’s biggest action scenes. I love this script so much I want to read it to my kids as a bedtime story. Complimented by the first-rate script, the film’s pacing is considerably adept. The movie starts a little slow, but after the first 20 minutes takes off with each scene either ending in an instantaneous gunshot or some capacious discovery. The film also looks exceptional. Each and every one of the scenes has either a pain-staking level of detail in it or looks as if there was no better location for the shot. The towns, the cabins, not to mention the costumes of the characters, all have a remarkable look and feel to them. Although it sounds minor, there are also a few camera angles and neat ways that the Coens frame a shot that’s definitely unexpected. There’s one shot that’s seen briefly in the trailer in a snowy wood that’s one of, if not the most impressive shots of the year. As if the script and cinematography that dances on the border of perfect wasn’t enough, the movie also works on an astounding level as a hardcore action film. Westerns sort of catch a bad name, as most of the time you either do it really well or no one will remember it ever existed. Plus, it’s pretty darn hard for one to make any money at the box office, thus discouraging studios from making them. 3:10 to Yuma and the previously mentioned No Country for Old Men are two Westerns from the past decade that set a standard for greatness. Much like how the Coens shot their action in No Country for Old Men, True Grit has some out of this world moments of action. Like No Country, there are a few moments of action you don’t see coming, shocking you by how quick it starts and just how quick it’s over. These are some of the film’s most terrifying moments mainly involving Rooster’s itchy trigger finger, and it’s hard to shake. The other moments where the film utilizes suspense work entirely, rest assured you’ll be on the edge of your seat. At its heart though, True Grit’s a Western through and through, and it’s never afraid to show off its guns, literally. Unlike a lot of other films each time a bullet leaves the chamber it really means something, and each action set piece is meticulously constructed and gloriously executed. There’s one massive shootout at the end that, without me spoiling it, puts one main character’s life in danger many times, and I was on the edge of my seat throughout hoping they were ok. Obviously based on my reaction you can tell it’s easy to get attached to the characters thanks to the superb writing and time taken to build each of the three main characters, along with the film’s message as to what it really means to have “true grit”. It’s also surprising how funny this movie is. While by no means would I call the film a comedy, a lot of the scenes including Rooster Cogburn’s drawl and inherent racism, how he interacts with others including Labeouf, and Mattie Ross’ boldness with the most frank of adults is hilarious. As I start to close here, I can only hope this film finds a huge audience. As I’m writing this, reports have already come in for its Christmas weekend haul, and it’s definitely been a successful weekend pull, practically making its budget back in 5 days. While the film is a little mis-marketed (it’s not as much of a fast-paced action film as the trailers make it out to be), it’s still a unbelievably great movie deserving of your support. The Coen Brothers’ True Grit is a very special kind of movie. It’s not often you get to see a film that perfects the writing, cinematography, and action that blend so well with this genre, only making it better. I honestly couldn’t imagine True Grit being any better than the final product we were given, and I can’t wait to check it out again. Just when you think the film’s done enough, the Coens keep pulling back curtains. There’s always another inspiring piece of dialogue, another dramatic moment that makes you think, or a 1 vs. 4 shootout that’ll make you want to rise to your feet. True Grit is in part a comedy, in part a Western, in part a drama, in part a revenge story, but in all parts it’s one heck of a perfect film. There’s just so much to love here, and if you’re a cinematic prodigal, True Grit might just make you love movies again.
5 out of 5