The film, which apparently ignores the 1969 film starring John Wayne and goes back to the source material (Charles Portis' 1968 novel), both unabsorbed by me, follows Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), a 14-year-old smart aleck who's father has been killed over a business deal by a much-sought criminal named Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin, from hunter in "No Country" to hunted here). In the Oklahoma town where her father was slain, Mattie asks Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), a drunken but menacing marshall, to chase down Chaney. He accepts, but tries, along with the ranger sent by her mother to take her back home (La Beouf, Matt Damon), to ditch her. Of course, she is unable to be sent away and she goes with them.
There is a lot of bantering between La Beouf and Cogburn, some of it that breaks the group apart for portions of time. These events lead the audience to believe what the characters believe, that the search is aimless and not going anywhere. But perhaps that's not true. See for yourself if you want to, I won't spoil.
The acting for everyone is varied. There are high marks hit by pretty much everyone (referring to the touching Bridges, the hilariously hammy Damon, the solidly articulate Steinfeld, the deceptively dumb but scary Brolin, the stolid Ed Corbin as a man wearing a bear head, and the hard and soft Barry Pepper as the gang leader Ned), but at times everyone's work (bar Corbin's) comes off like bad playacting. The writing, which apparently was the key reason that the Coens wanted to pull off this reworking, is pretty funny indeed. But the true sure thing is the cinematography, by the go-to man for westerns, Roger Deakins. It is extraordinary, especially in capturing the snow and the dusty light. He outdoes the Coens (even in their editing prowess, where they apply a good many cartoonishly abrupt fadeouts a la "A Serious Man"), and he is the validating reason for seeing the movie, which is not really much of a standalone success. (It makes me want to maybe even reevaluate "Meek's Cutoff" - I had some hankerings for that film, even though it wasn't tolerable viewing and "True Grit" was.) C+