Is the Dude better than the Duke? With this question I am of course referring to whether Jeff Bridges was able to pull off a better Rooster Cogburn than John Wayne in the Coen brothers’ version of True Grit. The answer to this is no but Jeff Bridges does, however, give an equal performance of the great John Wayne. The movie, itself, is an equal to the original too.
True Grit follows Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) as she tries to avenge the death of her father after he was murdered by Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin). She acquires the help of a marshal of “true grit”, Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges). Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) joins along on their quest as they try to capture Tom Chaney and take out the notorious gang leader Lucky Ned Pepper (Barry Pepper).
The remake of True Grit is directed and written by the Coen brothers, who seemed a perfect fit for this Western. Not only does the source material rely on characters and dialogue over action (a major trait of any Coen brothers movie), but the western itself is as American as it gets when it comes to genres (just like the New York native Coen brothers). For the first two acts, the Coen brothers are indeed the perfect fit for the film. They make the characters of the film stand out, and, despite being an adapted screenplay, they are able to put their on style on to the page and screen. All of the tiny little mistakes in the first film are completely erased as the Coen brothers get rid of any of the incompetence in the plot of the original. However, the brothers are unable to completely stick the landing. The brothers choose to not give any resolution to the relationships of the characters (which the original did so effectively). While this worked effectively in No Country For Old Men, it does not here.
As good as Jeff Bridges is here (and he really is as he has the charisma in the role to have his performance stand with John Wayne's), the true standout is Hailee Steinfeld. Mattie Ross is the true lead character in this movie and Steinfeld is able to hold the screen the entire time. Even with bigger names (such as Bridges and Matt Damon) on the screen with her, your attention is always directed towards Steinfeld. Matt Damon is great as La Boeuf and a definite upgrade over Glen Campbell (who never gave the character any clarity in his actions). Josh Brolin is just as good as Tom Chaney and never goes into campiness like Jeff Corey does in the original. The only downgrade in the cast is Barry Pepper as Lucky Ned Pepper, who is nowhere near as good as Robert Duvall.
Behind the camera, the art direction, costume design, makeup, score, editing and especially cinematography are phenomenal. The only real problem in this great film is the ending. Despite this, it easily stands with the great original in quality.