The role of Reuben "Rooster" Cogburn won John Wayne an Oscar decades ago in the original film adaptation of True Grit. The same might not happen to Jeff Bridges this year, but only because the competition is going to be fierce. (Bridges won the Best Actor award just last year for Country Heart.) And he is supported by an excellent cast that includes Josh Brolin as the baddest of the bad guys and Matt Damon as a somewhat insecure Texas Ranger. The star, though, is Mattie Ross, a 14-year-old girl played memorably by newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, who is actually 14 in real life.
The directors, Joel and Ethan Coen, do not mock the western with this tale but rather celebrate it and contribute a very worthy effort to the genre. Though filled with subtle winks and laugh-out-loud lines, a noteworthy seriousness is present in every scene and every conversation, making Mattie's desperate mission to avenge her father's murder seem a worthwhile risk. Ms. Steinfeld is captivating with her dark eyes and her character, Mattie, is captivating with her quick wit and willingness to subject herself to all manner of unpleasant situations to achieve her goal of seeing her father's killer brought to justice.
All of the staples of a good western are present here: old gunslingers, old lawmen, Indians, log cabins, cold nights, campfire stories, horses, twinkling stars, open prairies, gallows, trains, whiskey, and more. The absurd inclusion of a very young but very capable girl in it all surprises the U.S. Marshall, the Texas Ranger, the bad guys, and everybody else, including the audience. It is intriguing, suspenseful, artfully choreographed and is another feather in the caps of the Coens. It should receive a Best Picture nomination when nominees are announced late next month.