This Western is narrated by 14-year-old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), a feisty, well-educated, determined, and wise beyond her years teenager. She is on a mission and is convinced that justice and God are on her side. (All the hymns in the score seem to support her self-confidence.) Her beloved father has been killed by his employee Tom Chaney, who has ridden off on one of the best horses to join a band of outlaws in Indian country. Mattie has come to town to collect her father's body and to locate a gifted lawman who can track this villain down and bring him back for a trial and hanging. The one who seems to be her best bet has been described as a violent man of "true grit."
She first asks Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) for his help while talking to him through a closed outhouse door. He's not interested but she's sure she can find the right price to convince him. To get the money, Mattie has to prove her mettle in a bidding war with a stubborn horse trader (Dakin Matthews). She manages to get what she wants and more on a deal for her father's ponies. It the first indication that this incredible kid can hold her own in the adult world.
Also in town is Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) who has been tracking Chaney to take him back to Texas for for killing a state senator. He appears to be a slick operator and Mattie is determined to find the outlaw first so he is executed for killing her father. Although neither bounty hunter wants the girl to accompany them, she saddles up and follows them as they head off into the wilderness. Along the way they come across a dead man hanging from a tall tree, a Native American, an entrepreneurial old geezer, and two disagreeable criminals. Before she even comes across her father's killer, Mattie has witnessed a hanging in town and the bloody shoot-out with two uncooperative men who refuse to tell what they know about Chaney's whereabouts.
In this creative and convincing adaptation of Charles Portis' novel, which was also the source for the 1969 movie True Grit starring John Wayne, writers and directors Joel Coen and Ethan Coen have fashioned an entertaining film from start to finish. Here the emphasis is on character rather than conflict. We learn a lot about Rooster and LaBoeuf as they tell the stories of their lives and share verbal barbs with each other. The biggest surprise in True Grit is that Hailee Steinfeld steals the story away from the accomplished actors Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon. It is unusual to see a Western dominated by the presence and elegant language of a smart girl (the language, like that used in HBO's "Deadwood" series is formal, archaic, and flowery). When the lawmen and Mattie finally catch up with Chaney (Josh Brolin), they have to contend with an old enemy of Cogburn's — Lucky Ned Pepper (Barry Pepper).
Nothing in the Wild West is ever simple, as we learn in the final narration of the film. Revenge at first may seem sweet but in the end it extracts its cost in pain and loss.
Special features on the DVD include behind the scenes with Mattie Ross; outfitting the old west: buckskins, chaps and cowboy hats; re-creating Fort Smith; and the cast.