I have a confession to make: I have never seen the original True Grit, the western tale of revenge that earned John Wayne, playing the teak-tough US Marshal ‘Rooster’ Cogburn, an Oscar and Golden Globe for Best Actor in 1970.
It is therefore impossible for me, fresh from last night’s screening of the Coen brothers’ typically stylish, funny and visually stunning remake, to draw comparisons between the two. What I can say, however, is that this new adaptation ranks as my favourite Coen outing of recent years.
From the brilliant set-build and costumes to the dialogue that fizzes from the start, there is never a question that you need to be a fan of westerns to be sucked into the story of Mattie Ross, a precocious 14-year-old farm girl (played in quite remarkable fashion by Hailee Steinfeld) who argues her way through all obstacles in order to persuade Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to track down the man who murdered her father.
With the antiquated diction of the Wild West adding to the comedic flourishes of the verbal exchanges that ping like gun-fights, laughs come thick and fast. And while the Coens succeed in subverting the genre they’re never disrespectful to it, or, I suspect, to the original.
Bridges is brilliant as the eye patch-wearing, hard-drinking, pistol happy Marshal, and is ably supported by Matt Damon as Texas Ranger LeBoeuf, a pompous fool with a good heart who has been tracking the man wanted by Mattie for some time. But as the three set off into Indian territory in search of murderous hired hand Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), the revelation is watching Steinfeld excel in such exalted company.
With typically eye-catching cameos from a colourful array of outlaws and criminals, True Grit is every bit a Coen production, and one that is more than worthy of standing alongside their finest work – and even (perhaps you’ll be able to tell me) 1969’s original. We strongly recommend you go and see it when it's released on 11 February. Dan Davies