Sometimes a movie comes along and you get exactly what you expected. This is one of those times. When I heard that the Coen Brothers were remaking this I was pretty excited. I'm a big fan of the novel and the original is one of John Wayne's best. So, needless to say, I expected something great. And I pretty much got it, I'd call it near great. I don't think the Coens did anything revolutionary though. It wasn't as striking as their last couple of movies and I felt them going through the motions in a few spots. I'm also not sure why both movies refused to shoot this movie in the region where the book was set. In this version at least they acknowledge that they are supposed to be in Arkansas. It just doesn't really look like Arkansas, at all. I've always felt like the novel was more of a Southern one instead of a Western one but both movies have a distinct Western feel. The Western in film has a much greater tradition than Southern films which exist sort of nebulously (Try and think of five off the top of your head). Ultimately it isn't too big a deal I suppose. The ending kind of slipped away from them too. I felt like there was a great point to end the movie but they pushed it a bit further and the ending felt forced. I was pretty let down by this because their last two good movies had two of the best final scenes in recent memory. But still I loved the movie.
The main question I had going into this movie was would Jeff Bridges be able to put the movie on his back and carry it the way John Wayne did? I'm not the biggest John Wayne fan. But in the right role, he works. And sometimes the role is so perfect he becomes mesmerizing. True Grit is one of those times, so is the Searchers and The Longest Day. Jeff Bridges is a different sort of actor. Seeing a second take on the role makes me think there isn't a lot of room to wiggle on this character and that John Wayne was actually better than I remember him being. I'll probably watch it again soon to confirm my suspicion.
The other performances in the Coen's version far outshine those in the original. Matt Damon was especially fun to watch in the new one. Just about everything he said cracked me up and Hailee Steinfeld was great as Mattie. Also Barry Pepper as Lucky Ned Pepper steals every second he's on the screen. They're precious few but he makes the most of them. The only weak link to me was Josh Brolin. It's such a small role that his presence sort of distracted me. He also uses a weird muppet voice.
True Grit secured a spot on my ten best of the year and didn't sully the Coen Brother's fine reputation which it had the potential to do. Although with this movie being as good as it is, their next one will surely be a dud. They've never put three great movies together in a row. They almost achieved it recently but Burn After Reading (it came out between No Country and A Serious Man) was one their worst. Also Fargo and Lebowski was followed by O Brother, Where Art Thou? which I seriously cannot stand, and preceded by Hudsucker Proxy which I should've liked more than I did but was kind of a mess. We'll see if they can keep it together next time out.