When the Coen Brothers announced they were remaking the John Wayne classic True Grit, one could be forgiven for shuddering slightly. After all, their remake of The Ladykillers was a notoriously bad decision. But then again when you think of their more successful films, notably Fargo, O Brother Where Art Thou? and No Country For Old Men, then this tail set in 19th Century America couldn’t be in better hands, could it?. Typically for the Coens, they make great use of seemingly very remote locations, cut off from civilisation, dead trees, tumbleweed and chilled with a wind of lawlessness. A place where no-one can here you scream.
Similarly the characters are just as dark and unpredictable. The Coens are masters at luring us into a false sense of security only for the story to turn 180 degrees and go somewhere totally unanticipated.
Our hero is a 14 year old girl(great debut performance from Hailee Steinfeld) out to avenge the death of her father. She hires a US Marshall (Jeff Bridges) whom she insists on accompanying. They are joined on and off by a ranger from Texas (Matt Damon, though I admit it took me a good scene to twig it was him) The rest of the story is pretty straightforward which is just as well. Because, like my experience watching The Wire, the script is heavily vernacular and I was frequently puzzled by what the character were actually saying. But like a song by Tom Waits, it didn’t matter too much that you understood the words, but more enjoyed the song – or in this case the story. And telling a story is something the Coen brothers are good at. That and casting.
So a good film, though it scores averagely for me because whilst it’s a good remake, it is a remake. And a remake of a film from an era when “Westerns” were all the craze. Similarly in Britain, war films were once all the rage too. But if anyone were to remake The Guns of Navarone or Bridge on the River Kwai, you’d be mystified as to why they bothered! And sadly I am left with the same feeling about True Grit!