Who's In It: Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper, Hailee Steinfeld
The Basics: Blunt-spoken, headstrong, 14-year-old Mattie Ross (newcomer Hailee Steinfeld) wants to avenge her father's murder. So she hires grizzled alcoholic U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn (Bridges) to hunt down the fugitive killer. It's a perfect match because they're both unbending, solitary types, though the relentlessly logical, demanding kid has the edge because she's the one whose brain isn't booze-soaked. Joining them for the ride is Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Damon), who winds up the mediating force between the two hardened loners. And off they go into the frozen, unforgiving West to kill a man.
What's The Deal: There's a first time for everything and, finally, now there's a Coen Brothers movie that you can watch alongside your parents without them complaining that it's too weird. The filmmakers have stripped away every inch of human oddity that made their earlier work so easy to spot in a lineup and have created a really traditional Western for people who love them. What's remained from their earlier movies is the comic wit entwined with grim, determined darkness and violence. That's the stuff they'll most likely never abandon and it's what makes this update fully their own and better than the original.
Departures: You're thinking, "Look, I saw No Country for Old Men and all it did was freak me out." And that's a rational response. The Coens are big apologists for random, chaotic unhappiness. But there's a sense of moral order to this movie that will please crowds, no ambivalence about revenge or Old West ethics. There are bad guys and the heroes go after them and that's that.
A Star Is Born: Jeff Bridges makes for a tougher, edgier, more imposing Rooster Cogburn than John Wayne. (That's not a dig at Wayne; it's just that his Academy Award for that film was like Whoopi Goldberg's for Ghost or Al Pacino's for Scent of a Woman: the "We're sorry we forgot to give it to you for that other, earlier, better movie you were in" Oscar.) And Bridges has both the grimy exterior and the gravel-chewing growl to prove it. But it's young Hailee Steinfeld who really stands out. Plucked from a sea of teen actresses, she's got the dark, steely quality needed to make you believe she could boss around a man with a reputation as a merciless, justice-dispensing killer and still get her way.
What Shouldn't Happen, Even If It's As Big A Hit As The Original: A remake of the John Wayne/Katherine Hepburn sequel, Rooster Cogburn and the Lady.