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When we first see Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn in True Grit, he is an unholy mess of a man. He doesn't speak so much as gargle word-sounding noises through phlegm, his nose is a tessellated bouquet of gin blossoms, and he sways in the breeze like his spine has been pickled. Bridges makes John Wayne's crotchety old chubby Cogburn in the 1969 True Grit look like Mary Poppins; he's a broken-down cowboy whose sole talent is being the meanest motherfucker in the room.

Bridges's Cogburn plays perfectly against Hailee Steinfeld as prim Mattie Ross. Ross is serious, efficient, and curt—a 14-year-old girl so wounded by her father's murder that she emotionally cauterized herself into a robot programmed only for revenge. It's a brilliant pairing because Bridges's Cogburn is nothing but emotion (when he and Ross are on the trail of the killer, Cogburn doesn't stop talking about his feelings for even a second). Toss in Matt Damon's clever turn as a self- important, stuffy Texas ranger named LaBoeuf for comic relief—in another life, it seems, this cowboy would have made a legendarily great accountant—and you've got yourself a great western.

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