This morning I saw True Grit, starring Hailee Steinfeld and Jeff Bridges.
I'll confess that I've never watched the original version of this film, but I'm bargaining that gives me an advantage at being objective here.
Mattie Ross (Steinfeld) is on a mission to avenge her father's murder in the old west, and hires the notorious Rooster Cogburn (Bridges) to help her track him down.
About five minutes into the film, the audience knows that Ross is the smartest person in town. Never mind the fact she's only 14 and has no experience chasing bad guys, etc. As my Cinebanter partner would say, there is nothing more annoying than a self-righteous, precocious child, but in this case, the character is not so bad.
The only problem with Mattie being so convincing is that all tension is removed. Everyone is aware that she will achieve her goal come hell or high water because her wit and determination will allow for no alternate result. Steinfeld plays the part earnestly and sincerely, and most likely has a bright career ahead of her, but that doesn't forgive the script for removing all surprise at the ending.
Bridges is absolutely believable as the boozy U.S. Marshal, but his speech is so slurred throughout the film that it borders on Sling Blade-like enunciation (or lack thereof). Less mumbling and more stumbling would've been preferred.
Matt Damon as a Texas Ranger in pursuit of the same criminal is another story.
Disclaimer: I love Matt Damon. I think he's one of the finest actors of my generation and I like him in nearly everything I've seen him in. But here, with a bushy mustache and a ridiculous accent, I just couldn't buy it.
He doesn't have the 'evil' or the 'anger' or the 'tough' I expect from gritty cowboys. He doesn't look like a ranger; he appears to be a young man playing dress-up in Western clothes.
I found this unfortunate casting to be distracting and disappointing, and his character to be annoying and forgettable.
The Coen brothers have always been hit (Raising Arizona) or miss (The Ladykillers) for me. Either I love them or I hate them.
In this film, I'm finally split down the middle.
I enjoyed watching Hallie Steinfeld steal the show, and Josh Brolin as a dimwit killer was a pleasure too. Yet Bridges' lack of articulation, Damon's cowboy impersonation coupled with the somewhat boring lapses of time in the middle of scenes kept it from being perfect.
The writer/directors may very well enjoy their customary Oscar nominations, but I truly doubt they have a prayer at winning.