"True Grit," the last potential Oscar player in the mix, has finally screened for critics and with the embargo breaking this afternoon, first reviews are beginning to trickle out. And scanning through them, there seems to be a big leeway being given to the directing duo for a film that apparently bears very little of the usual imprint or flourishes and plays strictly as an homage to westerns of yore. While most are pleased with the film, it seems the picture's tone and deliberate old school feel may be a dealbreaker for some Coen brothers fans, and it remains to be seen if it has the right stuff to hoof it into the awards season race.
To bring you quickly up to speed, the film is not a remake of the John Wayne film per se, but uses Charles Portis' novel as the source material. Starring Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper and newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, the film follows a young girl (Steinfeld) who acquires the assistance of aging, drunken U.S. Marshal Rooster J. Cogburn (Bridges) and young Texas Ranger, La Boeuf (Damon) to track down her father's killer, Tom Chaney (Brolin), who has taken to a gang led by "Lucky" Ned Pepper (Pepper). The entire cast is earning kudos for their performances with particular hat tips to Bridges, Damon and Steinfeld. Here's what some critics have had to say.
Anne Thompson at Thompson On Hollywood, sums up the general consensus on the film overall saying, "The Coens are at the top of their game, honoring the great John Ford with a tip of the hat to Anthony Mann." She adds, however, "critics may be mixed on this slow-paced western character study, which does not function as an action picture" and moreover that the film "may work for older filmgoers and a holiday family crowd. But the film’s archaic, formal style and florid period language, which will be admired by the Academy’s writing branch, may prove too formidable a barrier to a mass audience."
Gregory Ellwood at HitFix has effusive praise for the film's lead saying, "Bridges is arguably better here than in his nuanced Oscar winning turn in 'Crazy Heart' and hasn't completely transformed himself for a role this much since the last time he worked on the Coens in 'The Big Lebowski.'" He also has no doubt about its Oscar chances saying, "Not only is 'Grit' a player, but it's one of the best pictures of the year."
Kris Tapley at In Contention says the film's slightly frayed edges are intentional (which seems to run counter to it being traditional western which are usually quite compact). He says, "You see, this isn’t really “a Coen brothers film” to me....it’s fair to say it bears more of a resemblance to the work of Anthony Mann, John Ford and Budd Boetticher than it does that of the Coens. The film isn’t focused on being as tight and complete as most of their films, and indeed, inchoate was very much a goal here."
Sasha Stone at Awards Daily forewarns Coens fans saying, "What does this mean, though, for the tried and true Coen traditionalists? They will likely be somewhat disappointed by the overt sentimentality here, the reach into unknown Coen territory."
Scott Feinberg has kind words for the cast all around but none as strong as those reserved for Hailee Steinfeld who he says will take home an Oscar: "13-year-old Hailee Steinfeld totally steals the show and, if my gut-feeling at the moment is correct, will prevail in this year’s weak best supporting actress race. She gives a first-rate performance as a precocious character; hers is easily the largest and most substantive of the parts that have any shot of being nominated."
It will be interesting to see how the critical mood swings, and the Oscar prognosticators change their charts after the initial glow from seeing "True Grit" subsides over the coming weeks. Regardless, we're looking for it. "True Grit" opens on December 22nd.