Having never watched the original True Grit film, nor read the novel on which it is based, one of the traits that immediately struck me about the Coen Brothers’ film is the level of humour. The writing in this film is top notch; the script is a good mix of western grit and witty one-liners. This is evident in the wonderful war of words that Mattie, Rooster and LaBoeuf have with each other. The first half of the film is especially funny as it is filled with many memorable lines. Whether it LaBoeuf commenting on Mattie’s lack of attractiveness, Rooster poking fun at the ineffectiveness of Texas Rangers, or Mattie out witting a trickster to get back her father’s money and horses, there is no shortage of laughs.
The three lead actors have a wonderful chemistry that really helps to enhance the dialogue. After making such a memorable mark in The Big Lebowski, it was not only exciting to see Jeff Bridges back working with the Coens but also refreshing that he was able to create another memorable character. Rooster is exactly what you would hope for in this film. He is the reluctant father figure to Mattie who loves killing just as much as he loves drinking. Rooster rarely lets his guard down, even when he shows a softer side it is only for a few brief moments. Both Damon and Steinfeld are great in their respective roles. There are a few times where the film seems to hint at Mattie and LaBoeuf’s relationship becoming something more but it never follows this idea through. Still, both actors bring so much to their respective characters that you feel like you have known them for a long time.
This brings me to the biggest issue I had with True Grit, the character of Tom Chaney. All of the other characters are so memorable that Chaney ends up being a huge disappointment. The first half of True Grit nicely builds up the lore of Chaney. The fact that it essentially takes two men to track him down gives Chaney the lure of being a really crafty villain. Yet when Chaney finally appears, it becomes apparent that he is nothing more than a buffoon. What is even more baffling is that LaBoeuf had so much trouble catching Chaney in the first place. If this was not enough, the emergence of Lucky Ned Pepper (Barry Pepper) completely overshadows Chaney. Lucky Ned Pepper is a far more interesting character than Chaney and, judging by how fast the film focuses on the Lucky Ned/Rooster arc, the Coens seem to be acknowledging this.
Chaney is practically a blip in the film and it is especially noticeable in the last twenty minutes of the film. From the moment Mattie has the encounter with the snake to the conclusion of the film, True Grit loses some of the shine it had at the beginning. The ending of the movie not only dragged on, but it felt like the film was trying to neatly wrap things up in order to answer questions that no one was asking. Regardless, there is plenty to enjoy in True Grit. The film is filled with great performances and it will have you laughing far more than you would expect from a western.