Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) is determined to avenge her father’s murder by hunting down Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), the murderer. She hires U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to help her track Chaney into Indian Territory. Cogburn and Mattie join forces with Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon).
Steinfeld steals the film, playing Mattie as stubborn and determined girl who wants nothing more than to avenge her father. She is the center of the film and isn’t overpowered by Bridges or Damon, but instead holds her own with them.
Bridges plays Cogburn much more angry and tough than John Wayne did in the 1969 version of the film. While Wayne was entertaining as Cogburn, his film was much more cheery for such a dark story. This is probably more a credit to the Coens’ vision and script.
This film is definitely gritty and does not hold back where the 1969 adaption did. Cogburn shoots a horse in the head after riding it into the ground, fingers come flying off and arms are amputated. It is also shot more cinematically than the John Wayne version, using darker lighting and sepia tones.
Although the film is long and tends to drag in places, it is still a solid tribute to the old style Western films, using authentic dialect, costumes and lots of guns. They don’t make fun of a genre gone by, but instead revive it with its own archetypes. The film is not over-the-top cinematography but instead it is handled carefully and modestly.
The ending is a little disappointing and somewhat confusing. It definitely makes you raise an unbelieving eyebrow at Cogburn’s life after Mattie. As in – it’s not possible.
Steinfeld’s Mattie is tough and whip-smart, but still very likeable. The 1969 version of Mattie (Kim Darby) is almost impossible to handle because she’s so whiny and annoying. Steinfeld created her own character instead of using Darby’s as a starting point—because if she did, the film would not have been enjoyable at all.
Bridges’ Cogburn does The Duke justice despite being very hard to understand sometimes with his thick, boozy drawl. While Bridges pays homage to Wayne’s character – riding a horse with his reins in his mouth while shooting two guns—he does not replay the role. Even though a drunken lawman is something common in the western-age of cinema, Bridges reinvents it and presents an entertaining character. He vacillates between buffoon and hero.
Damon’s LeBeouf had very little competition with Glen Campbell’s portrayal of the character. Anyone probably could have done better, and Damon definitely did. He was funny, somewhat pathetic and winning.
Basically, the Coens can do anything and do it well. They constantly examine genres and reinvent them through their films. The Coens don’t look at what is popular in the box office, but instead they look at what tells the best story and the best way that they can tell it.
And they also toss in dummy credits such as Buster Coen for Matt Damon’s Abs Double (abs that did not appear in the film). What’s better than a solid film with funny credits? Nothing.
Go see this movie.