by Dan Fields
First published December 25, 2010 by the California Literary Review
“The Quality of Grit is Not Strain’d…”
Leave it to the Coen brothers to top off the year with a peculiar surprise. True Grit, their new adaptation of the late-60s Charles Portis novel, sidesteps any substantial resemblance to the well-known version starring John Wayne, Glen Campbell (ack!), and Kim Darby (ick!). The Coens play this western adventure fairly straight, with a healthy dose of dark humor, but without the pervading sense of bitter irony which drives films like Fargo, Blood Simple, and No Country For Old Men.
The protagonist, Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), is a young girl out to avenge the murder of her father by a man named Chaney (Josh Brolin). Offered her choice of disciplined and fair-minded bounty hunters to help her find the killer, she instead chooses Marshal Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), a one-eyed shambling wreck of a man known for his “true grit.” Mattie, who despite all her high talk wants blood spilled even more than she wants justice done, judges him the right man for the job.