The early teaser of True Grit that played before last summer’s Inception presented staccato shots of glowering cowboys raising heads and six-shooters from the shadows, cocking them at quivering defenseless victims, and muttering cryptic macho dialogue. It promised “retribution” come Christmas, and seemingly a return to the godless, pitiless worldview of No Country for Old Men. Obviously trailers can’t be trusted, especially when tailored to the audience of the accompanying feature, but if True Grit ended up as mean-to-the-bone as advertised, it seemed a counterintuitive choice for Paramount to release during a holiday week. Yet True Grit is the Coens’ straightest adaptation yet, and the original Charles Portis novel is both a comedy and young adult adventure story before it is a violent revenge tale or even a western. And while fingers do get sliced off and characters are shot point blank in the face, the well-meaning True Grit is a surprisingly principled and square family option for the holidays.
And there’s nothing wrong with its general lack of ambition, as long as you weren’t expecting it to compare with the remarkable trifecta of No Country, the underrated Burn After Reading, and A Serious Man, in which they tapped new reservoirs of personal engagement and balanced it with their usual idiosyncratic ironic mockery. Read Justin Stewart’s review of True Grit.