From the moment Hailee Steinfeld enters the frame in Joel and Ethan Coen’s magnificent western True Grit an adaptation of Charles Portis’ 1968 novel (or re-adaptation — John Wayne's 1969 version got to it first) the film belongs to her. This is no easy feat especially for a 13-year-old actress making her feature-film debut but Steinfeld not only holds her own alongside such heavyweights as Jeff Bridges Matt Damon and Josh Brolin she often upstages them.
The film which is set in the 1870s stars Steinfeld as Mattie Ross a pigtailed 14-year-old sent to the frontier town of Fort Smith Arkansas to settle the affairs of her deceased father an honorable man murdered for two gold pieces by a monstrous simpleton named Tom Chaney (Brolin). Mattie also comes seeking justice: Chaney is still at large having escaped to the dangerous foreboding expanse of the Indian Territory and she intends to see to it that he is captured and brought to trial.
Frustrated by the local authorities’ ambivalence toward tracking down her father's killer Mattie turns to Rooster Cogburn (Bridges) a slovenly alcoholic U.S. Marshal renowned for his cruelty and itchy trigger finger. Were there a Miranda warning in 1870s Cogburn would have little use for it; chances are few of his perps would understand it through his grouchy guttural slur anyway.
Pleading to join their makeshift posse is LaBoeuf (Damon) a pompous upright and overly chatty Texas Ranger — the Good Cop to Cogburn’s Bad Cop — who covets Chaney’s Texas bounty which holds more value than his Arkansas bounty. Cogburn agrees reluctantly to take him on recognizing that Chaney now likely holed up with his criminal gang a vicious bunch headed by a spittle-spewing snaggletooth named Lucky Ned (Barry Pepper) is too formidable to approach alone. Cogburn and LaBoeuf are natural rivals and long rides on the trail of Chaney afford them ample time for dick-measuring contests which invariably necessitate the intervention of their teenage mother hen Mattie.
Mattie may be the most mature member of the posse but she is nonetheless still a child — eventually the job of exacting final vengeance must fall upon the men with guns. Here Mattie’s stout heart has an ennobling effect on Cogburn who after briefly giving up during a booze-fueled bout with self-doubt stiffens his resolve to see things through.
Compared to its predecessor the Coen Brothers’ version of True Grit is both funnier and less sentimental. There is little room for tenderness or romance on the Coens’ frontier but opportunities abound for the kind of black humor for which the writer-directors have become so famous. As in Fargo they have a great deal of fun with language; characters speak in a laughably rigid formalized manner almost Shakespearian in its tongue-twisting complexity. The film's ironic conceit that such codes thrive in a land ruled by violence and chaos is best illustrated in Mattie’s constant almost charmingly naive threats of legal action against her adversaries. They react to her threats with a kind of befuddled amusement; the phrase "I'll see you in court" is still several decades away from joining the popular lexicon.
Critics often bemoan the abundance of remakes in modern risk-averse Hollywood. A more productive strategy at least for the cause of quality filmmaking might be to properly exalt the better ones. This True Grit may be the best of them combining the look and feel of a classic western with a distinctly Coens brothers tone. And Ms. Steinfeld is nothing short of a revelation.
Top Story: Douglas Feted at Golden Globes
The 61st annual Golden Globes has chosen Michael Douglas as this year's Cecil B. DeMille Award recipient for career achievement, The Associated Press reports. Douglas follows in the footsteps of his father, Kirk Douglas, who won the same honor in 1968. Previous recipients include Gene Hackman, Harrison Ford, Al Pacino and Sophia Loren. Douglas will receive the award during NBC's live telecast Jan. 25 in Los Angeles. AP reports the Hollywood Foreign Press Association also announced that Kevin Costner's 17-year-old daughter, Lily Costner, will escort winners offstage at this year's ceremony as Miss Golden Globe.
Hilton "Embarrassed" By Tape
Paris Hilton admitted to AP she never thought a sex video she made with her ex-boyfriend would ever become public. "I feel embarrassed and humiliated, especially because my parents and the people who love me have been hurt," the socialite and reality TV actress said Monday in a statement to AP. "I was in an intimate relationship and never, ever thought that these things would become public." The ex-boyfriend, Rick Solomon, recently filed a $10 million slander lawsuit against Hilton, her family and her publicist, claiming they have sought to portray him as a criminal.
Spears Hits Hollywood Walk of Fame
Pop princess Britney Spears got her very own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame Monday, on the eve of her first album release in two years, Reuters reports. "I'm seriously speechless right now. This is something I've dreamed about since I was a little girl. ... Thank you so much for even coming out today and sharing this memory with me that I'll never forget," the giddy singer told her cheering onlookers at the ceremony. Her album In the Zone was released Tuesday.
Minnelli Files Suit Against Husband
Liza Minnelli has filed a lawsuit against her estranged husband, David Gest, claiming he stole at least $2 million from her. AP reports Minnelli's lawsuit, filed in Manhattan court, says she and her representatives question Gest's expense deductions from money she earned in performances that he produced, or in which he acted as her agent. This follows Gest's own scathing $10 million lawsuit filed in October in which he claims Minnelli physically abused him. Needless to say, the two, who married in March 2002, have also both filed for divorce.
Anderson Launches Clothing Line
Jumping on the entrepreneurial bandwagon, Pamela Anderson is set to launch her own clothing line. AP reports "The Pamela Collection" will include jeans, T-shirts, sweaters, jewelry, lingerie and fragrance when it reaches stores in fall 2004. "I want to make sure it's affordable and available," Anderson said, who will have creative control and will be involved as a co-designer. "I can't wait for it to come out so I can get the clothes for myself and my friends. It's been a lot of work," the Baywatch star added.
Mickey Mouse Turns 75
Happy Birthday, Mickey! The Disney icon arrived on the scene 75 years ago today when he made his screen debut in the animated short Steamboat Willie on Nov. 18, 1928, as an irreverent rodent who takes Captain Pete's steamboat on a joyride and woos Minnie Mouse (who is turning 75 as well).
Music Industry To Get Worse Before Better
According to a study done by the London-based research firm Informa Media Group, the music industry has at least two more years before they'll see any sales recovery, Reuters reports. Informa's study showed the retail value of global music sales will drop to $28.2 billion this year from $30.9 billion in 2002 and to $28 billion in 2004 before returning to growth in 2005 as new Internet music services take off. "The music industry is in a bad way at the moment but the continued fall in the value of music sales is certainly not irreversible. The success of the new download services proves there is a viable market for legitimate digital sales," Simon Dyson, an Informa analyst, told Reuters.
Reagans Gets Airdate
In an unexpected move, Showtime announced they will air The Reagans, the controversial TV-movie CBS nixed a few weeks ago, on Nov. 30, AP reports. Originally, Showtime said they would wait until next year to air the movie, which follows Ronald and Nancy Reagan's rise to power and caused an uproar from some who claimed it contained inaccuracies that projected the former president in a bad light. "We just thought it didn't make sense to prolong this and bring it on next year," Robert Greenblatt, Showtime Entertainment president, told AP. "I'm just tired of people making judgments on this when they haven't seen it. Let them see it."
Role Call: Smothers Brothers Reunite
Tom and Dick Smothers, the successful sibling team behind the wacky '70s variety show Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, have agreed to play themselves in a two-hour telepic for Paul Reiser's production company, Nuance Prods. Variety reports the hybrid biopic/mockumentary will explore how the two got their start, their rise to stardom and their controversial variety show, which CBS yanked due to disagreements over content. Smothers Brothers alum David Steinberg will direct.