Review in a Hurry: The Coen brothers' adaptation of Charles Portis' satirical western novel is less faithful to actual plot details than the Henry Hathaway film that starred John Wayne, but it gets the tone exactly right. With their love of irony, eccentric language and region-specific tics, the directors are a perfect match for the source material.
The Bigger Picture: As in No Country For Old Men, Joel and Ethan Coen enjoy taking the classic myth of the aging lawman coming out of retirement to battle one last foe...and demolishing it by having the guy turn out to be almost all talk. This time, however, the conclusion is more conventionally satisfying.
Fans of the Duke may take it personally that one-eyed Marshall Rooster Cogburn, once portrayed as a frustrated, righteous lawman hog-tied by annoying red tape, becomes, in the hands of Jeff Bridges, a drunken screw-up who often errs on the side of killing. They shouldn't—it's how Portis wrote the character and not a dig at the man most famous for playing him. And in a way, the films complement each other: the Hathaway film represents Cogburn as he'd like to be seen, while the Coens show him as he actually is. A hero at times, a blowhard more often, but the heroics are significant when they do show up.
The Coens may resist any kind of direct comparisons, but as viewers will inevitably make them, we must note that young Hailee Steinfeld portrays the iron-willed, revenge-seeking, Scripture-quoting preteen heroine Mattie Ross to perfection and will likely erase memories of Kim Darby. (Though, in fairness, Darby was often roughly saddled with clunky exposition in her dialogue). The only person involved who seems to be consciously invoking the original is Barry Pepper. As the outlaw Lucky Ned Pepper, he sounds just like Robert Duvall (who played him in the Hathaway version) while looking a whole lot like Dennis Hopper (who played another character).
If were an Oscar for Best Mustaches, True Grit would have it in the bag, as the Coens dive into the exciting world of frontier facial hair with gusto. As far as other Oscars go, Bridges deserves it more for this particular drunken cowboy than last year's drunken singing cowboy, but it's probably enough for him that between this and Tron: Legacy, he headlines the two most-talked-about movies right now.
Funny, dark and beautiful to look at, True Grit is a true pleasure. Just like most of the Coen brothers' movies.
The 180—a Second Opinion: If you're a big Josh Brolin fan, attending the movie mainly because you see his name on the poster, be advised he doesn't actually show up until near the end of the film.