‘True Grit’: Modern Cool Meets the Authentic West (Review)

True Grit
Jeff Bridges as Rooster and Haillie Steinfeld as Mattie. (Paramount Pictures)

It’s the voice. Charles Portis created Mattie Ross in his novel “True Grit,” first published in 1968, and it’s the authentic voice of Mattie — righteous, forceful, Scripture-quoting, judgmental — that gives the story such a distinctive flavor. She’s an old woman in 1928, writing about the events that occurred after her father was shot dead by a scoundrel named Tom Chaney. She was only 14 years of age, but was determined to avenge her father, and knew she was the only one to do it.

The novel is lively and funny, filled with succinct character descriptions (“Mama was never any good at sums and could hardly spell cat”) and telling details (“The three killers dropped to judgment with a bang. A noise went up from the crowd as though they had been struck a blow”). Mattie’s voice is predominant, of course, but ornery U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn comes through just as truly as Mattie, as does Texas Ranger LaBoeuf.

The Coen Brothers have kept the guts and retained the spirit of Portis’ novel for their spirited, highly entertaining new version of “True Grit,” starring Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn, newcomer Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie, and Matt Damon as LaBoeuf, pronounced “La Beef” as only a true Texas would tackle a French moniker.
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