True Grit

True grit.

That’s what fourteen-year-old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) is searching for in the Coen brothers’ we-surpass-the-original True Grit, and she finds it.

Looking to avenge her father’s murder by tracking his killer Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) and bringing him back for trial – the girl quotes law as though she’d been weaned on Black’s – she hires US Marshal Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) whose name has been murmured since she arrived from her parents’ ranch. Rooster happens to be in town for a trial, and after Mattie makes some ready cash through sharp bargaining, she pays an unwilling, whiskey-soaked Cogburn fifty dollars (“the other fifty when we return”) to guide her into Indian Nations territory after Chaney.

Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) wants Chaney for his own financial reasons: Chaney killed a Lone Star State senator, and the man who brings him back to Texas will be rewarded. LaBoeuf sees the brave, precocious Mattie as a snippety miss, and he and Rooster, who’d rather not have his employer, as Mattie describes herself, riding alongside, join forces without her.

They reckon without Mattie’s determination. She catches up with the two men, and sticks tight. Rooster points out that her objective is to have Chaney hang – which he can do as easily in Texas as in Arkansas – but that’s not enough for Mattie, who wants to turn the murderer over to the law herself.

Through attack, error, gunfire, insults, cold and snow (as Rooster says of a man who’d sheltered Chaney, “If he wanted to be buried, he shoulda got hisself killed in the springtime”), and encounters with strange characters who remind us that the land west of the Mississippi was, in the 1800s, a place where odd ducks could still lose themselves, the threesome reach the despicable Chaney. His capture, however, doesn’t end the story. La Boeuf, Rooster and Mattie display even more heroism in its last minutes. True grit, indeed.

Caveat: If you absolutely, positively must understand every word of dialogue, either read the book before going to the theater . . . or wait for the DVD with subtitles. Cogburn’s played as the cork-puller he is, and that makes his speech slurred and mumbled. Y’unnerstan?

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