New in film: True Grit

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Starring Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, and Hailee Steinfeld. Written and directed by Ethan and Joel Coen. Based on the novel by Charles Portis. Rated PG-13. 110 minutes.

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Boldly reanimating the comic Western that secured John Wayne his Oscar 41 years ago, the Coen brothers' True Grit is well-wrought, if overly talkative, and seriously ambitious, returning the Coens to the all-American sagebrush and gun smoke landscape that has best nourished their wise-guy sensibility. This perverse buddy tale, in which an implacable 14-year-old girl (Hailee Steinfeld) bonds in vengeance with the one-eyed, one-note bounty-hunting windbag marshal Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges in the Wayne role), is one of the brothers' least facetious movies — despite a prolonged meet-cute as little Mattie stubbornly attempts to roust Rooster from a rustic privy to secure his aid in tracking her father's murderer into Indian territory. For the most part, the Coens' is a highly enjoyable yarn, stocked with frontier bozos. However hammily he rasps and fumfers, the Dude's Rooster is more nuanced and less overbearing than the Duke's. Never less than disciplined, Matt Damon is a strong foil to Bridge's rumbling, stumbling, grumbling, grizzled scapegrace, as the upstanding, mildly pompous Texas Ranger, LaBoeuf, who joins the magical mystery tour. The brothers have always been good on scary outlaws (in this case, Josh Brolin) and, with its sod houses and bleak weather, their West is as inhospitable as it should be. Despite, or perhaps because of, Wayne's clownish performance, True Grit I was the comfortingly "normal" middle-American Western of its season. The Coens' True Grit is considerably more faithful to Charles Portis's novel than was the 1969 movie, and, consequently, far darker.

 
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