110 mins. The Coen Brothers' remake of the John Wayne classic with Jeff Bridges in place of the Duke. A great, laconic performance by Bridges and some lovely, drily witty lines from the Coens. But by their standards a disappointing film.
It is after all a Western and we all know the story, which is a given. There were some Coen-esque moments, like the discovery of a corpse hanging high up in a tree in the wilderness ("Why did they hang him so high?" "Perhaps that way they thought he'd be more dead") which is cut down, sold to a passing Indian and then turns up having been sold on to a huge man in a bear skin who, having removed the teeth, offers to sell it back to our heroes. There were a couple of lovely comic scenes involving the heroine (Hailee Steinfeld, who really was just 14 when they made the film) and the elderly dealer in horseflesh with whom she negotiates. And the conclusion was typically downbeat: our heroine, now grown-up, seeks out her saviour, who has become one of the attractions in a touring Western show, only to find he has died a few days before her arrival. Matt Damon once again showed what a good actor he is as La Boeuf (pron "Labeef"), the effete Texas Ranger.
But there were some longueurs and I'm not sure it was a good idea to write the whole script in clunky period dialogue, full of "is not" instead of "isn't" and "I will" instead of "I'll". In the end the Western has rules which even the Coens must obey. One, which doesn't help plausibility, is that our heroes make camp with an array of equipment which in reality would have needed at least one packhorse to carry, yet which they somehow manage to stow away in a couple of saddle-bags. The most glaring example comes towards the end when the heroine goes down to the river to get water and spots and is spotted by the man they've been chasing as he waters the gang's horses on the far side. She has a wooden bucket, which floats away in close-up: a bucket which has earlier been nowhere in evidence on her horse or Jeff Bridges'.
The Coens are good at subverting genre expectations with black and quirky humour, but the Western seems to defy even them.