The Coen brothers may have made, of all things, a family film.
It just depends on the age of the kids in the family. Fans of Joel and Ethan Coen have been eagerly anticipating their Western True Grit, but few might have guessed it would have more in common with Treasure Island than No Country for Old Men.
A 1969 version of the story, starring John Wayne, also had a light touch, and though this adaptation is decidedly darker, it still has a winking playfulness — and a PG-13 rating.
Even executives at Paramount Pictures weren't certain when the brothers repeatedly promised that their hellfire and gunfire story would fit with a release date of Dec. 22.
"They were contemplating a holiday release, and we thought that it seemed to make sense, because it is a young-adult adventure story," Ethan Coen says.
"Tonally, it's different than what we've done before," Joel Coen says.
Most of the story plays as comedy: A headstrong prairie girl (13-year-old Hailee Steinfeld) bosses the disheveled Marshal Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) and a dimwitted Texas Ranger (Matt Damon) as they pursue the man who murdered her father.
"That's something people do associate with our movies, by and large: the fact that there is a humorous element," Joel Coen says.
Much of the comedy comes from the grandiloquence of the dialogue, with desperate people communicating with what seems to be comical ceremony, even as they plot murder.
"The only credit we can take from that is we didn't change it from the novel," Ethan Coen says of the 1968 novel by Charles Portis. "The dialogue is taken pretty much entirely from the book. There's a formality to it. And no one uses contractions."
The Coens chuckle at the idea that fathers and daughters might bond over this tale of a vengeance-seeking girl and her paternal surrogate.
They say they wanted to make the kind of movie they used to enjoy.
"As kids we did see the Disney movies and the kids' adventure stories of the day," Ethan Coen says. "It's also like Howard Pyle, the famous illustrator who did pirate stories. That's the stuff we were taken with as kids."