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"True Grit" Review: Coen Brothers Bring Wit, Grit to the Wild West

Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld in "True Grit." Paramount

NEW YORK (CBS) In the recent spate of year-end-accolades being doled out in the form of nominations, the most glaring omission has been any tribute to "True Grit," which was released today. That mistake has finally been rectified. The annual Screen Actors Guild nominations were just announced and the film has garnered well-deserved nominations for both Jeff Bridges as Best Actor and Hailee Steinfeld in the supporting actress category.

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Based on the late '60s serial novel written by Charles Portis and featured in The Saturday Evening Post, the story recanted the tale of an unusually courageous and intelligent Texas teenage girl seeking to avenge her father's murder. To do so, she enlists the services of a washed-up, haggard frontier lawman, who is more attuned to where his next libation is coming from than staying on the right side of the law, and a forthright Texas Ranger, who has also been on the hunt for the murderer (Josh Brolin) for other crimes committed.

The words "true grit" came to represent the kind of single-minded, cocksure gutsiness that can see a person through incomprehensible circumstances - a concept at the core of the American spirit and something Mattie (Hailee Steinfeld) sees in jaded U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges).

The 1969 screen version of "True Grit" was an adaptation of Portis' novel and starred a grizzly John Wayne. Bridges steps easily into this role and dons many of the same affectations as Wayne's Cogburn. The Coen brothers' updated version, however, is grittier and stays truer to Portis' telling than the original. It also has the brothers' comedic hallmark, though they seem to have reigned themselves in this time to come up with an impressively nostalgic films that will certainly go down as one of their better movies.

The filmography is stunning, capturing the vast expanses of open land and lazy rivers we associate with the Westerns of old, juxtaposed with wickedly smart dialogue and a trio of characters that cannot seem to see eye to eye yet form an intrinsic bond.

Newcomer Hailee Steinfeld is exceptional in the role of Mattie. She brings just the right mix of innocence tempered with tenacity and spunk that brings her character to life and, for all intents and purposes, carries the film. As the heroine and narrator, she brings the story to life through her unwillingness to compromise or varnish her opinions.

Matt Damon is Texas Ranger LaBoeuf, a role inhabited by country singer Glen Campbell in the original. Damon's character is the antithesis of Bridge's - he is methodical, fixed on his mission to bring in his man. The parody of his relationship with Mattie provides some memorable highlights, including a licking he gives the precocious teenager when she insists on tagging along on the trail to find vindication for her father's murder.

Bridges is superb in bringing the drunken brashness of Cogburn to life, but the Coen brothers' dialogue, full of razor-sharp wit and dark comedy, along with some of the best lines from the original novel, is the star that makes this homage to the Wild West soar.

MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some intense sequences of Western violence

Run Time: 128 minutes

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