Whatever you do, don't call it a remake.
True enough: The 2010 movie True Grit—film No. 15 for the Coen Brothers—bears certain resemblance to the 1969 film of the same title, which starred John Wayne and featured some campy singing from Glen Campbell. The new one doesn't have any singing, but it's hard to miss a few parallels. The plot's almost the same as the original. And the character names.
But the Coens insist it's not a remake, and in fact, they haven't seen The Duke's movie since they were kids. It is, rather, a more faithful adaptation of the classic American novel by Charles Portis, which provided a slightly looser basis for the 1969 film. Not everyone quite buys it, but if you see this new version, you'll be convinced that the Coens are as steadfastly true as ever to their own spirit—and the relationship of the original to this one is simply an interesting historical footnote.
The 2010 version really is a more faithful adaptation of the Portis novel—much of the dialogue is lifted straight from the book—and yet it still plays out like the quintessential Coen Brothers. There's a lot of deadpan humor, interspersed with outbursts of violence, and as the bodies stack higher the humor becomes blacker, and more ridiculous. The characters speak in a slightly exaggerated dialect that isn't based on any particular land or geographic locale, but rather takes joy in the sheer sound of the words and rhythmic poetry of the backwoods cadence. And though this is arguably the first true Western for the Coens, the formal similarities—to movies like No Country for Old Men and even The Big Lebowski—are difficult to miss.
So it's typical Coen—at once distinct from anything they've done before and yet thoroughly fitting their body of work—and a perfect marriage of directors and source material. It's nearly the opposite of their last movie, the jet-black existential comedy A Serious Man; it's a pure joy, an absolute hoot of a movie, hysterically funny and as comfortable and familiar as an old flannel shirt. The Coens are always pushing themselves—and I would call this one of their best—but here they're clearly having fun with the material. And by their standards, the movie is uncommonly warm.
Which is not to say that it isn't a little dark, as well. The movie opens with the welcoming glow of a well-lit front porch, but as the camera pulls back, we realize that things aren't as serene as they might appear: There's a dead body on the ground, and with it the impetus for whole story. The man who was killed left a family behind, and though his wife is too grief-ridden to care about anything as coldly calculating as vengeance, his fourteen-year-old daughter Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) is out to see justice served, spilt blood repaid with more spilt blood.
Here is a girl who has been forced to grow up too fast. More than once we see her literally sleeping with death surrounding her—she spends a night in a funeral home, sleeping in a coffin with corpses all around, and later she spends the night in a house where there's just been a gunfight, and the bodies are still warm as they lay out on the front porch—but her attitude toward it is dispassionate. It's just part of her life and her world.