Coen Brothers' True Grit: Now with 25 percent more grit

Joel and Ethan Coen's remake presents a revisionist perspective on the Western genre

Joel and Ethan Coen's remake of True Grit sets up a showdown between the Duke and the Dude. Western icon John Wayne won his Best Actor Oscar in 1969 for playing ornery U.S. Marshal Reuben "Rooster" Cogburn. In keeping with the Coen brothers' harsher vision of the frontier, Jeff Bridges plays Cogburn as a seedy, hard-drinking wreck with a thicket of beard and a gargling voice.

Cogburn fits the vengeful requirements of teenage Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), who hires him to track the no-good varmint (Josh Brolin) who killed her father. Steinfeld gives Mattie determination beyond her years — whether she's facing horse traders or gunslingers, she won't take "Git!" for an answer. She protests when Cogburn teams with LaBeouf (Matt Damon), a preening popinjay of a Texas Ranger also seeking the outlaw. Damon amusingly plays LaBeouf as quick with a gun but slow on the uptake, though he eventually lives up to his inflated self-image.

The new Grit presents a revisionist perspective on the Western genre by seizing on moments of casual brutality and downright weirdness. In the film's vision of "the territories," dead bodies can be commodities; white people exhibit breezy racism; and a bearskin-clad mountain man can emerge from the brush and ask if the travelers need any "doctorin'." When various ambushes and shoot-outs erupt, the violence tends to be sudden and catastrophic.

The Coens mine plenty of humor in their mismatched heroes' interplay and the semi-archaic dialogue from Charles Portis' original novel. True Grit exudes more confidence than the Coen's other remake, The Ladykillers, but still feels like an intellectual exercise from a couple of movie buffs along the lines of Gus Van Sant's shot-by-shot remake of Psycho. The Coen Brothers set such high standards for cinematic excellence that even a wry, compelling Western such as True Grit can feel like a disappointment if it's not a new classic.