It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
In the Coen Brothers' “True Grit,” Jeff Bridges is not playing the John Wayne role. He's playing the Jeff Bridges role — or, more properly, the role created in the enduring novel by Charles Portis, much of whose original dialogue can be heard in this film. Bridges doesn't have the archetypal stature of the Duke. Few ever have. But he has here, I believe, an equal screen presence. We always knew we were looking at John Wayne in the original “True Grit” (1969). When we see Rooster Cogburn in this version, we're not thinking about Jeff Bridges.
Wayne wanted his tombstone to read, Feo, Fuerte y Formal (Ugly, Strong and Dignified). He was a handsome, weathered man when I met him in the 1960s and '70s, but not above a certain understandable vanity. Rooster might be an ornery gunslinger with an eye patch, but Wayne played him wearing a hairpiece and a corset. Jeff Bridges occupies the character like a homeless squatter. I found myself wondering how young Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) could endure his body odor.
Bridges' interpretation is no doubt closer to the reality of a lawman in those years of the West. How savory can a man be when he lives in saloons and on horseback? Not all riders on the range carried a change of clothes. Of course he's a lawman with an office and a room somewhere in town, but for much of the movie, he is on a quest through inauspicious territory to find the man who murdered Mattie's father.
As told in the novel, Mattie is a plucky young teen with a gaze as level as her hat brim. She hires Marshal Cogburn to track down that villain Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin). She means to kill him for “what he done.” If Bridges comfortably wears the Duke's shoes, Hailee Steinfeld is more effective than Kim Darby in the earlier film, and she was pretty darn good. Steinfeld was 13 when she made the film, close to the right age. Darby was a little over 20. The story hinges on the steely resolve of a girl who has been raised in the eye-for-an eye Old West, seen some bad sights and picked up her values from the kind of old man who can go and get hisself shot.