[Contains a suspicious amount of sofky and SPOILERS!!!]
It’s not that I needed the story to have a shiny, happy ending like the 1969 John Wayne version – if Mattie has to lose her arm to the snake bite and never see Rooster Cogburn again, then so be it – I’d just become so invested in the character, and Hailee Steinfeld’s remarkably assured performance as the feisty teenage girl out to avenge her
father’s murder, that I wanted to see how she reacted to these losses, rather than cutting to twenty-five years later, where the grown-up Mattie (played by some actress we’ve never seen before) reflects back on them from a dispassionate distance, and fails to meet the recently deceased Cogburn. It just felt deeply unsatisfying as an ending, even though it technically “resolved” the loose story threads, via its voice-over.
All it would have taken for me to consider this a 9-out-of-10, must-buy film is a scene of young Mattie waking up after her surgery, and being told that Cogburn had stayed by her side until he knew she was going to pull through, then headed off again… have her looking sad and confused and lost, keep the same adult voice-over explaining that she never saw him again, and roll credits! Instead… I’m not sure I’ll ever want to watch it again, regardless of how much I enjoyed everything that came before that final “flash-forward” scene. In truth it’s a very amusing, thrilling, and involving Western adventure… and a great credit to the Coens… but that anti-climactic, anti-cathartic ending really killed it for me.