Joel and Ethan Coen

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Byline: David Ansen

'Raising Arizona,' 'Fargo,' and 'No Country for Old Men' defy categorization--except as Coen brothers movies. So what happens when the quirky duo from Minnesota decide to remake a John Wayne Western?

True Grit is the first Western you've ever done. Did you look at old Westerns? Ethan Coen: No, actually we didn't. We looked at very specific things, like horse stunts. We did not look at movies per se. Joel Coen: The problem with actually looking at horse stunts in Westerns is, 90 percent of what you could have done with a horse 20 years ago you can no longer do because of animal-treatment rules. Ethan: You can't complain about it, because it really did represent to a weird degree cruelty to animals. But God, it makes life really hard. Joel: Just to have a horse fall down, there are rules everywhere. And we were lucky in just that we had unbelievably great wranglers working on this. There's also the ability to do so much in the computer now.

Do you have a favorite Western? Joel: I didn't grow up as a John Ford, John Wayne fan. But there are certain John Ford Westerns I really like. I like Rio Bravo, and I like The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Ethan: Totally from the other point of view, we both have always liked Sergio Leone. Once Upon a Time in the West is a great movie. And, you know, like Clint's crazy '70s movies -- Joel: Yeah, The Outlaw Josey Wales is a very good movie.

How much did you depart from the Charles Portis book? Ethan: The hanged man, the whole thing from the hanging through the bear man, is not [in the book].

There's a big scene in the original where they let Mattie cry about her dead father when she's alone. Joel: There's a moment in our movie where she's looking at her dead father's stuff in the boardinghouse, but she doesn't cry. It's more her holding it together. Ethan: It's the unflinching four-square Protestant thing that defines the character.

And I loved that you show her at the end as an older woman without an arm. Ethan: It's irresistible, you know.

There's the finger-chopping scene. I don't remember if that's in the novel. Joel: Well, you got to cut some limbs off. Ethan: Basically, it's 127 Hours. Joel: Except we don't actually show her cutting her arm off.

Hailee Steinfeld, who plays the girl, is terrific. …