Review: 'True Grit'

(Three stars)

The Coen brothers place their indelible stamp on this impressive remake of the classic John Wayne western. Excellent production values (especially costume design) couple with standout performances from Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon for a terrific cinematic escape.

But "Grit" lacks the emotional power of Clint Eastwood's "Unforgiven" (1992) or even James Mangold's "3:10 to Yuma" (2007), landing it squarely in the "good but not great" category of Hollywood westerns.

Assertive young lass Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) is determined to track down her father's killer, Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), who is hiding out deep in rugged Indian territory. Mattie is headstrong and defiant, and seeks to hire only the very toughest bounty hunter to bring in Chaney. Enter Rooster Cogburn (Bridges), a no-nonsense U.S. Marshal who speaks with a gruff voice and sports an eye patch.

Also on Chaney's trail (for a separate crime) is cocky Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Damon). After considerable dissention, the three odd companions elect to travel together in hopes of hunting down Chaney. In true Coen brothers fashion, an array of unique (and occasionally downright bizarre) characters interact with the trio along the way, including outlaw Ned Pepper (Barry Pepper) and a "doctor" decked out in bear fur. Tension and turmoil bubble up as Cogburn, LaBoeuf and Ross get closer to their objective.

The Coens ("No Country for Old Men") are accomplished filmmakers and bring their enviable prowess to "Grit." Cinematography, set design and costuming are exceptional. From Cogburn's weathered eye patch to LaBoeuf's stubborn cowlick, the attention to detail is meticulous and thorough. The Coens nailed the atmosphere and tone of the genre -- there is a rough, gritty feel to the entire film that is quintessential western. Some of the film's dialogue gets lost due to the traditional western language, and viewers may occasionally lean to a friend and whisper, "What did he just say?"

Bridges is terrific as the unrefined, oft-drunken Cogburn -- I'd wager even the Duke would applaud his performance. Damon is also in top form as LaBoeuf, and the dynamic that develops between Cogburn and LaBoeuf (who are almost polar opposites) is a highlight and really accentuates the talents of both gifted actors.

Steinfeld (making her feature-film debut) manages decently in the difficult position of sharing screen time with Bridges and Damon. Though her delivery is often too mannered and occasionally rushed, she never breaks character and seems wiser than her years.

Kudos to the Coens for bringing some Old-West fun back to theaters.

Rated PG-13 for some intense sequences of western violence including disturbing images. 2 hours, 8 minutes.

— Tyler Hanley

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Short story writers wanted!

The 33rd Annual Palo Alto Weekly Short Story Contest is now accepting entries for Adult, Young Adult (15-17) and Teen (12-14) categories. Send us your short story (2,500 words or less) and entry form by March 29. First, Second and Third Place prizes awarded in each category.

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