I caught this film as a matinee today. Prepared for the event with a lunch of beer, steak, and potatoes after a brisk mile-long walk through some parkland, enjoying the bright sun and sub-freezing temperatures. There's something extremely invigorating about a quick jaunt outdoors when it's real "winter" weather out - not a 36 degrees and brown grass lawns winter, but thermometer in the mid-teens, feels like single digits with a foot of snow on the ground winter.
The walk and my lunch couldn't have prepared me better for the film. Don't get me wrong, I like John Wayne and I like his Rooster Cogburn just fine, and I think the original film has great merit. However, the Coen Brothers are expert film makers, and they approach the subject with due gravitas, as do all the actors involved.
Everyone gives an excellent performance, especially Hailee Steinfeld; I am almost embarrassed that her name is listed after the title during the end credit sequence, especially since Josh Brolin is in the movie, all told, for probably no more than 15 minutes.
It was good, however, to see Barry Pepper (the sniper in Saving Private Ryan) show up - I had no idea who the actor was until the end credits, he was so transformed in appearance from his younger, more clean-cut roles. I'd like to think his performance as Ned Pepper would have earned him a tip of the hat from Robert Duval, the original Ned Pepper.
One thing I especially like about this film is that it portrays "Indian Territory" as a truly untamed land, filled with bizarre characters, remote and mysterious locales, and danger or death at a moment's notice - if any notice is to be had at all. It reminds me of the Yukon wilderness and the characters who thrive there portrayed in the Lee Marvin / Charles Bronson film Death Hunt, one of my favorite "Manhunt" movies.
Whether or not you feel a remake or re-envisioning of True Grit was unnecessary or unwanted, I feel there is no denying this is an excellent film. The story may be told from a somewhat different angle and with a slightly varied tempo, but just as one song can still sound great played by two different performers, so it is that this story can be told well by two different generations of actors and film-makers.