Jeff Bridges’ Indian summer gallops on as True Grit finds him drawing on his recent form playing a character as savage as the western prairie.  Retreading their No Country for Old Men (2007) territory, the Coen brothers drive a spur into the old horse opera, easily eclipsing John Wayne’s original (1969).

After her father’s murder at the hands of an outlaw (Josh Brolin), Mattie (Hailee Steinfeld) enlists two gunfighters (Bridges and Matt Damon) to track him down.  Little realising the 14-year-old’s intent on accompanying them, the trio bicker their way into untamed Cherokee country in a quest for revenge.

As the cantankerous old buzzard Rooster Cogburn, Bridges is fantastic in embellishing a burnt-out yet lovable character, much like in Crazy Heart (2009).  However, matching his performance all the way is a sensational Steinfeld as the headstrong girl who refuses to conform to a male-dominated society.

The deep characterisation and relationship of Mattie and Rooster forms the lynchpin of this film, with many story-building scenes devoted to them.  In fact, their realistically defined roles quickly relegate all other actors to bit parts.

Adapted from Charles Portis’s 1968 novel, the script is as prickly as a cactus and belies its 30-year plus pedigree.  This comes across in many witty exchanges of dialogue in which Mattie spars with her male cohorts, challenging the genre’s stereotyping of women.

True Grit is an excellent addition to the modern reinterpretation of the western as a more – dare I say it – gritty and realistic film.  With less violence than Western aficionados might like, the slow-burning narrative takes centre stage and rides off into the moonlight of a satisfying conclusion.

True Grit is out in cinemas now. 2011 USA, Cert 15, 110 mins, English.

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