The Coen Brothers are on such a streak of form right now. True, Burn After Reading isn't brilliant but "not brilliant" from the Coens still tends to be better than many directors at their best. No Country For Old Men was a triumph, A Serious Man fantastic and now with True Grit they've delivered a superb western and a great film full stop.
The true grit of the title belongs to Mattie Ross (newcomer Hailee Steinfeld) a tough as nails and hugely intelligent young girl who hires drunk, disorderly but deadly US Marshall Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to avenge her Father's death by killing the man that did it (Josh Brolin). Joining the hunt is Texas Ranger La Boeuf (Matt Damon), something of a buffoon but who nevertheless displays courage and heart as the film progresses, causing Mattie to wonder if she didn't perhaps hire the wrong man in the first place.
The film is a coming of age story as much as it is a revenge story and it contains so much of what the Coens do best, pitch perfect tone (even as scenes go from dark to funny to tense and back to dark again) fantastic dialogue, economical story-telling and iconic performances. This film boasts what is absolutely a career best turn from Jeff Bridges. Yes everyone loves The Dude and yes he won his awards for the inferior Crazy Heart last year, but Bridges' Cogburn is simply phenomenol. We get the sense of him being a good man but the love of his life is whiskey and whiskey is everywhere to be found. He is at times hilariously uncoordinated, falling off his horse etc, and at times menacingly dark and is utterly compelling both ways. He is matched by Haliee Stenfeld who has an incredibly tricky job of convincing as plucky and tough without losing sight of her age or tipping into parody and at the same time revealing just enough vulnerability to let us see her change throughout the film. She is absolutely excellent and is certainly a talent to watch for the future. Matt Damon too is excellent. His character is that goofy type of character The Coens like to write but Damon always grounds him in something believable so he fits in completely with the rest of the film.
The other star of True Grit is Coens' regular cinematographer Roger Deakins, surely about to receive his long overdue Oscar next week. The film is beautifully shot, from the small scenes in cabins or by campfires to the stunning vistas one expects from a Western. True Grit is one of those films where you believe the characters have been around long before we meet them at the beginning of the part of their lives the movie depicts. With Cogburn in particular, and not just because he is the eldest, you absolutely get the sense of a man who has lived a life, not a character created for the purpose of telling a story. True Grit is elegant, tense, funny and truly a film you can just get lost inside of. In short, it's everything The Coens, at their best, have been delivering their whole career.