Flaring your nostrils and talking fast does not make for good acting. Will someone please tell Hailee Steinfeld? OK, maybe not. She is a child after all. But were I Rooster Cogburn, after a few sups of bourbon I’d have been very tempted to snag “plucky” Mattie Ross in one of the shootouts and put it down to friendly fire. Or whatever they called friendly fire in the late 1800s. Probably something like “Gawd’s way”.
The Coen’s take us off to the Wild West - more specifically injun country - on the trail of a killer (Josh Brolin). Drunk, disorderly, and dangerous Marshall Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) leads the way. Stalwart but silly Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) follows and the aforementioned Mattie Ross makes Bonnie Langford seem a lot less annoying. If you can get past Steinfeld mangling her lines, the mismatched three make for a wonderful team. Bridges provides comedy gold, drinking himself into oblivion while getting results, much to the annoyance of LaBoeuf and the girl. Matt Damon brings both hilarity and poignancy to his role, further proving himself to be a performer of impressive wide range.
It’s a good film but not a great one. It was admittedly rushed by the Coens to gain a lucrative Christmas release and it shows. It’s saddening to hear the brothers are kowtowing to that kind of studio meddling. I just wish they’d told that studio exec, in the words of Miller’s Crossing’s Leo, to “dangle”. Early scenes, such as Rooster in the witness chair giving testimony, should have been crackling but instead they’re sludgy and actually obstruct your involvement in the film. Some have criticised it for being too slow in pace but I don’t believe that’s the problem. The pace is fine. It’s just the quality of the dialogue. I'm aware we’ve been rather spoilt over the years by the wonderful words of Joel and Ethan. But annoyingly, that just makes it all the more obvious when the words are less than remarkable. It can’t be that they’ve lost their writing mojo. The recent and sublime A Serious Man script proved that. Things pick up nicely though. Aside from a completely unnecessary epilogue (rushed writing?) the action builds to an exciting climax.