by Ryan Hill
2010 may be the year of the Tiger in the Chinese calendar, but at movie theaters it’s the year of Jeff Bridges. He kicked off the year with his first Academy Award for his performance as Bad Blake in “Crazy Heart” and is ending the year in style, with a sequel to 1982’s “Tron” and a reunion with the Coen Brothers in “True Grit.”
The last time Jeff Bridges appeared in a Coen Brothers movie was in 1998’s “The Big Lebowski” as the Dude, who is, hands down, one of the greatest movie characters ever created. “Crazy Heart” may have finally given Bridges his due from the academy, but he will always, always be forever known as the Dude.
Adapted from the Charles Portis novel, “True Grit” was made into a film once before in 1969 with John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn, the role inhabited by Bridges in this latest version. Cogburn is hired by the precocious 14-year-old Mattie Ross (newcomer Hailee Steinfeld) to track down Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), the man who murdered her father. Along the way, they enlist the help of LaBoeuf, a goofy Texas Ranger – played by Matt Damon – who looks like he hasn’t had this much fun acting in quite some time.
Bridges plays Cogburn like a well-worn glove: an obstinate old man who lives life with one hand on a bottle and the other on a gun.
The one who gives everyone a run for their money is Hailee Steinfeld, who should be a shoe-in for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination. Not only does she hold her own against heavyweights like Bridges, Damon and Brolin, but she also revels in pushing them around, especially Damon.
The Coens have been up and down in the past few years, with every up like “No Country for Old Men” and “Fargo” mixed in with dreck like “The Ladykillers” and “A Serious Man,” which was seriously awful. “True Grit” ranks among the Coens’ best but not quite on the level of “No Country” or “Fargo.”
It’s odd that the Coens, who have based their entire careers on subverting film genres, would tackle a film like “True Grit,” a perfect example of the best that the Western genre has to offer. Their execution is nearly flawless, having created a classic western that lives up to the genre without falling victim to it, at least until the end, when the clichés that have made westerns all but extinct finally rear their ugly heads
“True Grit” may be the Coen Brothers’ most accessible, commercial film to date – a meat-and-potatoes Western that may be one of the best Westerns in the last 25 years. There should be plenty of Oscar nominations heaped upon “True Grit,” and deservedly so, but were it not for a slip-up near the end, many of those nominations could have turned into gold statues.