Truthfully, I’m not that fond of westerns. I’ve seen very few (I haven’t even seen the Coen Brothers’ last project, No Country For Old Men), and whenever I do the music, horses and stretching scenery aren’t enough for me. In fact, the music kind of grates on me.
In most of its reviews, True Grit has been described as a “good, classic western.” That was never going to be a way to hook me, but I’m always impressed by Jeff Bridges’ performances. He was just as talented as always, but I wasn’t even watching him. During this whole film, my eyes were glued to newcomer Hailee Steinfeld.
The Coen Brothers said they intended to be more true to the novel than the 1969 John Wayne film, and in the novel the 14-year-old heroine drew them in. Steinfeld was chosen out of 15,000 girls, and the brothers said they were aware that if the child actor wasn’t just right the movie wouldn’t work at all.
Steinfeld works perfectly. She is up against two very well-regarded actors (Matt Damon does not get nearly enough attention for his performance), but she holds her own and then some. It would be easy for the other performances to overwhelm her (as Anthony Hopkins did over his costar in The Rite), but she does exactly the right things for her character. We never forget that this movie is about her. It is a total cop out on the part of the Academy that she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress instead of Best Actress.
The dialogue is brilliant. At times like the trial, it even takes real concentration to understand. But if you get the jokes, it makes you respect the movie even more. The actors have just the right pacing, and nothing feels forced. The relationship between Steinfeld’s character and Bridge’s character is challenging and touching at times, but what really makes you watch the movie is the tension between her and Damon’s character. It holds a lot of awkwardness and respect, and many things go unsaid by both the characters and the Coen Brothers, but that is definitely a wise choice. It adds a bit of subtlety to True Grit, which is a nice touch considering that westerns are not known for being subtle.
At the end of the day, the story really is a classic western (which might be why I don’t have a lot to say about it). It’s not really original enough to have a shot at winning Best Picture, although it does deserve its nomination. The surprise for me is the Coen Brothers’ nomination for Best Director, which really should have gone to Danny Boyle for his work in 127 Hours.
If you take anything away from True Grit, it should be Steinfeld’s performance. We should be seeing huge things from her in upcoming years.