Anne Thompson's True Grit review headline is: Coens Deliver PG-13 Classic Western, Bridges Owns Cogburn. Here's a round-up of other early reviews [Updated with more]:
In Contention's Kris Tapley:
"[The] lack of artistic intrusion is ultimately the film’s virtue…unlike No Country for Old Men, which was adapted with fussy visual swagger, True Grit is tackled in a straight-forward manner, allowing for the players and their actions to solely convey the experience…What [the Coens] exceed at is perfectly casting their films, knowing what they want from their actors (something generally quite unique, which is what makes them unique as filmmakers) and providing a visually interesting space for them to perform…Josh Brolin brings an odd energy to outlaw Tom Chaney while Barry Pepper is doing his best Robert Duvall impression in the "Lucky” Ned Pepper role Duvall originated… what a delight [Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Hailee Steinfeld] are, fully immersed in their characters at every turn…And in Steinfeld, a star is born. The Coens exhaustively auditioned countless young girls for the role and they turned up a real gem here. Steinfeld delicately plays off of stalwart steadfastness, pent-up mourning and even awakening romantic longing on the way to crafting a completely realized character…[Damon] isn’t doing anything particularly sensational here, but that is rather the point of his performance’s brilliance. It’s in the eyes, the tambour in his voice at the whose-is-bigger goading of Bridges’s Cogburn, and the otherwise stoic pride of a confidant lawman."
Variety's Peter Debruge:
"the brothers severely rein in the humor, which the book offers in spades -- a curious call in light of the often-satirical undercurrent in their other films. What comedy does survive exists primarily between Bridges and Damon, whose characters are constantly undermining one another in Mattie's presence…In what surely ranks among the most peculiar introductions in screen history, the Coens set Mattie's first encounter with Cogburn through the wooden door of an outhouse…Bridges pulls off a total physical reinvention, complete with whiskey-stained moustache, rotting underbite and trademark eyepatch. The actor seems to have absorbed the character into his very marrow, and though Cogburn seems perfectly set in his ways, the great pleasure of the film is watching how his attitude toward Mattie goes from patronizing to paternal over the course of their adventure…For the most part, True Grit resists the unspoiled vistas we've come to expect from Westerns, favoring the craggy, unkempt terrain of Cogburn's face instead."
THR's Todd McCarthy:
"a melancholy, atmospheric Western…this wintery work is well played and superbly crafted but hits largely familiar notes, giving it a one-dimensional feel without much dramatic or emotional resonance…[The Coens] have oddly decided to drain most of the comedy from inherently funny lines and situations. Considerable character color is lost in the process, particularly where Rooster is concerned…Damon's LaBoeuf, on the other hand, has far too thin a skin to be comfortable around the likes of Rooster, and the actor skillfully reveals the insecurities of a man who needs to back of his badge with bravado…As always with the Coens, the craft aspects are outstanding, led by Roger Deakins' superior cinematography, Jess Gonchor's detailed production design, Mary Zophres' textured costume designs and Carter Burwell's often source-derived score."
Award Daily's Sasha Stone:
"Bridges as Cogburn has so many things going on at once – the actor seems to call upon every character he’s ever played to pull this off…The Coens have, with True Grit, dipped into that mysterious landscape of human emotion…Of all of the American-born filmmakers, Joel and Ethan Coen continue to grow as they tell stories – revealing pieces of themselves to their audiences. A Serious Man elbowed the door open slightly; but True Grit seems to have pushed it wide open…The real scene-stealer is Matt Damon, who gets to play the type of part he was really born to play: awkward fake/tough guy…here, every line of dialogue that comes out of his mouth, every time Cogburn refers to him, it’s funny. The three characters — Cogburn, Mattie and La Beouf are a motley crew, but an engaging one. The idea that the strongest person in their group is a 14 year-old girl makes it all the more sweet…The Coens have delivered yet another unique work in their truly astonishing collection…It isn’t just gimmickry, and it isn’t just their desire to dip into one genre, it is their refusal to ever play it safe, to ever give the audience just what they’re expecting…to take risks — that is how great films are made."
Moviefone's Erik Davis:
"True Grit isn't quite the masterpiece some were expecting, but it's so much fun to watch that many will leave the theater thirsting for more ... of everything. It's a film that also allows them to overdose on vibrant, scenic shots of rural America during the 1800s; to bask in hard-boiled and savory dialogue, and to introduce the world to a new, gotta-put-her-in-everything-right-now young actress…Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld own this film, every inch of it...The two make up the most memorable on-screen duo we've seen all year…Joel and Ethan Coen clearly had a lot of fun with this one, and it shows up on the screen. They've tapped into everything we love about the Western -- from its hard-edged poetic dialogue to its epic gunfights…Damon's performance is admirably subtle; he blends in quite smoothly, like a character actor would…True Grit might not go down as one of the Coen's most 'unique' experiments, but it sure might be recalled as one of their coolest."
TheWrap's Steve Pond:
"It's good. Sometimes it's damn good. But it's not a game-changer…I can now say that the Coens' version of the Charles Portis novel is better than the 1969 John Wayne movie made from the same book…It's dark and moody, with a wonderful performance by Jeff Bridges as indomitable but frequently-soused Marshall Rooster Cogburn… and a terrific turn by newcomer Hailee Steinfeld…It's also funny, and not always in that dark, twisted Coen-black-humor kind of way…It's a light film that occasionally feels heavy -- and while that is no doubt exactly what the Coens intended, it may well keep True Grit from being taken seriously enough by Oscar voters…True Grit strikes me as a solid, expert piece of entertainment with a dark Coen underbelly, but not the kind of knockout that'll be the last film standing…the original novel was a wonderfully-crafted page-turner with a few indelible characters, worthy of a screen adaptation but hardly deserving of canonization."
Cinemablend's Eric Eisenberg:
"Steinfeld also plays [Mattie] as someone entirely aware of the limitations that come with age…In their brilliant construct of the character, the Coens have made her bold, not brash…True grit isn’t about pride...What makes Mattie Ross such a dazzling character is that her anger is not wanton, it’s specific…True grit isn’t about compromise...The film’s greatest hurdle is reality. Few could imagine modern teenagers riding into the desert to hunt their father's killer, but Steinfeld’s amazing performance and the Coens’ ability to maintain authenticity sustains the story's credibility. Time and again Mattie is caught in confrontation with people several years her senior, but Steinfeld is unflinching and seems to possess the same steel backbone as her character…[the Coen brothers] rely on how amazing it is to watch a fourteen-year-old girl completely dominate the people standing in the way of her goals. True grit isn’t about backing down...Bathed in the stunning cinematography of long-time Coen brothers collaborator Roger Deakins and a beautiful score by Carter Burwell, the film is a phenomenal and perfectly cast character piece. True grit means a lot of things, but in the hands of filmmakers like Joel and Ethan Coen it means one of the best movies of the year."
HitFix's Drew McWeeny:
"The result is one of the most crowd-pleasing films I think the Coens have ever made, accessible and simple and mythic and beautiful, and like the best Westerns, it contains a sadness that is innate to the period. This is probably the warmest film they've made since Fargo,…[it] is a beautiful movie in a very quiet, adult way, and yet it's a film that I think young people could see because of the high adventure that underscores it all…Steinfeld carefully navigates Mattie's evolving relationship with Cogburn and with the Texas Ranger La Boeuf, and there are choices she makes as an actor that are surprising and even deeply affecting at times. It's a great debut performance…With Cogburn, Bridges brings some of all of his various personalities to the table, and it's a rich, funny, noble performance…Matt Damon finds the absurdity in Texas Ranger La Boeuf without robbing him of his dignity or his genuine ability, as well, and it's an impressive balancing act…Josh Brolin redeems himself completely for Jonah Hex with his flat-out hilarious turn as Tom Chaney, the man who Mattie Ross is chasing for killing her father...Playing Ned Pepper, Barry Pepper is nearly unrecognizable, and he brings real menace to his short turn…Every bit of humor, terror, and heart that is contained in the Portis book made it into the film, and that's a remarkable thing…But it's the Coens. I expected nothing less."
"The Coens’ scenario is more faithful to the source material, the novel by Charles Porter, which back in the 1960s was intentionally (and compromisingly) reshaped as a star vehicle for John Wayne. Make no mistakes, this True Grit is no star vehicle for Jeff Bridges, even though he plays the lead and gives an impressively commanding and entertaining performance. That said, for better or worse, this True Grit is not as great a picture as the Coens’ No Country for Old Men,"…the girl (and in many ways the protagonist, at least nominally) is wonderfully played by Hailee Steinfeld, who should get an Oscar nomination in the supporting league…As usual, as co-writers and co-directors, the Coens pay greater attention to the socio-historical contexts of the tale, to recreating the physical locale more authentically, to matter of characterizations, and to visual style, which is sharp and pleasing at the same time."
Hollywood Elsewhere's Jeff Wells:
"The Coens are obviously cream-of-the-crop fellows but I didn't care. Yes, I love the dialogue and don't want to see Steinfeld get hurt but other than that, I just don't give a hang about any of it. It has a certain historical charm and color but it feels too dry and cold, and it's nowhere near as amusing as I'd heard it would be. Yes, Marshall Cogburn shows some sand of his own at the end and does a fine and noble thing, and I just sat there and looked at my watch and said, 'Okay, things are wrapping up'…It's stylistically polished, period authentic, 'good' as far as it goes, admirable in portions (there's a nighttime showdown between Damon and those three or four guys on horseback that's quite brilliant), and a clear example of solid authorial ownership. But it's going to die almost immediately when it opens."