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Cinema Signal: A good entertainment for most moviegoers.
. "True Grit"

A display of courage is always an attention getter, and for the best of reasons. When it comes from an unlikely source, such as a 14-year old girl from Arkansas not only venturing alone into the lawless west of the 19th century, but going there to hire the meanest old cahoot with a badge to help her chase through the badlands to find the man who killed her father, well, that's the kind of courage that sells tickets.

It did back in 1969 when John Wayne played salty ol' Marshall Rooster Cogburn in the original "True Grit" and it's bound to do a repeat in the Coen Brothers' remake with Jeff Bridges ("Tron Legacy," "Crazy Heart") in the saddle.

Young Mattie Ross's (Hailee Steinfeld in a debut role) apparent courage isn't a choice made from among several possibilities. To her, doing what has to be done to achieve justice is the only possibility. Bright and sassy as she is, she's just figured out what has to be done and she's the type (or, is it at an age) that doesn't take no for an answer, especially when she's packed with enough cash and promises of rewards to make enlisting the man's services feasible enterprise.

Cogburn isn't eager for a new trail ride just now but he is, after all, the Marshall, and accepts the task. But it'll be on his time table and under the condition Mattie drops the idea of coming along. To ensure it, he sets off alone, but that doesn't stop her from chasing after him. Nor does the wide river that separates them when she spots him. Her ride through a fairly hairy river in order to catch up finally impresses him enough to accede to her crazy wish to come along. She won't last very long, anyway.

But it's now the highly competitive Texas Ranger La Boeuf (Matt Damon in the role originally played by Glen Campbell) who can't abide this arrangement. He's pretty steamed up about her being allowed to ride into danger.

In tracking Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), Mattie's dad's killer, Rooster and Mattie and come across several outlaw miscreants, not the least of whom is Lucky Ned Pepper (Barry Pepper) who has gone to town with the makeup department to give him a cartoonish face that simulate the stoniest, rain-rutted trails the man's ridden.

Pepper is one of those character actors who spring up on many an errant road, having probably made the deepest impression before this one in "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada," a Tommy Lee Jones starrer. He's clearly having more fun than usual in this peppery role.

Bridges brings out his homespun flintiness that is pure him and never a knockoff of his predecessor in the role, John Wayne. But he occupies the role with the gruff exterior and soft interior the part calls for, along with a taste for irony and badlands humor. Convincingly trail-wise and an expert outdoorsman, his familiarity with the local outlaws and their mendacious ways are the essential texture of his legend.

Damon runs his range of portrayals through an entirely different ringer to provide a second banana adversary on the same side of the law but operating from an entirely different play page. What he does here as a superior, self-satisfied, by-the-book outlaw chaser is almost worth the ticket price, especially for Damon-watchers.

The kind of bright intelligence, steel spine and willful intensity that's inimical to the girl's role is evident in what she's called upon to do in this setting, and it's clear that a wide search for the ideal actress was a smart way to find her. In Hailee Steinfeld the part is admirably filled with a girl with pillow lips who embodies all the characteristics to make the play between her and the irascible but conquerable Rooster Cogburn a pleasure to watch.

Brolin is a good catch for the dim-witted fugitive in Mattie's crosshairs. The part is small, allowing this appealing and versatile actor to fit in an appearance in a schedule of four films in 2010 alone that began with the role as the villain in "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps." We'll see him in "Men in Black III," early 2012.

All of which plays downright entertainingly so long as you accept the generally cartoonish style of humans and their behaviors in "True Grit." Fortunately, it comes along in a season that makes it especially welcome as one of the few major films that provides an oasis of lightness and humor in a rather devastating lineup. After you've lived through "Animal Kingdom," "Blue Valentine" and "The Kids Are All Right," come for a ride on these trails and enter a whole more relaxing landscape.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Hailee Steinfeld and Jeff Bridges
Mattie and Rooster, on a trail he never thought she should or could ride.

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