It's hard to imagine anyone disliking the Coen brothers' rousing new rendition of "True Grit."
Not even folks who are stoutly devoted to Charles Portis' excellent novel. Or to the John Wayne movie. Or both.
Indeed, while I relish the earlier film, the Coens' incarnation is both more entertaining and more faithful to Portis.
Above, in this film publicity image released by Paramount Pictures, Hailee Steinfeld, left, and Matt Damon are shown in a scene from “True Grit.”
In this film publicity image released by Paramount Pictures, Hailee Steinfeld, left, and Barry Pepper are shown in a scene from “True Grit.”
The key is Mattie Ross, a 14-year-old Arkansas girl who teams up with two lawmen to track her father's killer.
Blunt, stern, tough and unyielding, Mattie faces down crooks and gunmen three times her age; it's a blast watching her match wits with the drunken marshal Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), the snippy, self-centered Texan LaBeouf (Matt Damon) and a stingy horse-trader very nicely played by Dakin Matthews.
In the '69 film, Kim Darby's Mattie wasn't quite young or feminine enough to give these exchanges the snap and sizzle that makes every page of Portis a pleasure.
Enter newcomer Hailee Steinfeld.
Despite such high-wattage costars as Bridges and Damon - along with Barry Pepper and Josh Brolin - Steinfeld swiftly lassos this film and brands it as her own.
From the very first scene, this fetching rookie - who was 13 when she made it, with little previous experience - has the viewer squarely in the palm of her hand.
My bet is she'll have an Oscar statuette in the very same place come February.
Bridges, meanwhile, is dirtier, drunker and less appealing than Wayne's one-eyed marshal; yet this only heightens the contrast when Cogburn finally marshals up the heroism Mattie was seeking.
Ditto LaBeouf's lousy aim and boastful confidence both come into play in the film's final scenes.
Filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen told USA Today that they wanted Mattie to emerge as more mature than the two older men, almost like a mother - and in this they have succeeded. Brilliantly.
Not only do we love and admire Mattie, but her unswerving gumption makes "True Grit" much funnier than your average Western.
Though the Coens didn't pen much of the crackling dialog (most of it is lifted straight from Portis), they deserve a lot of credit for leaving it intact - and for staging the shootouts with breathtaking realism and clarity.
These scenes seem to flow straight out of the characters' motives and choices, yet at the same time, they also have a theatrical scope and grandeur, a sense of fatalistic aptness and propriety.
And keep an ear out for Carter Burwell's excellent score, built largely around the beloved hymn "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms."
In fact, much like Portis' novel, this "True Grit" gives more than a passing notice to the deep-seated religious belief that governed the thoughts of so many at that time.
Direct, old-fashioned and at times even inspiring, "True Grit" is not your typical Coen brothers film; yet like Scorsese's atypical "Shutter Island," it may well turn out to be their biggest hit.