Film: True Grit
Cast includes: Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart), Hailee Steinfeld (She’s a Fox), Matt Damon (Good Will Hunting), Josh Brolin (W.)
Screenplay/Direction: Joel and Ethan Coen (Fargo)
Genre: Drama/Comedy/Western (2010) based on the 1968 novel by Charles Portis.
In brief: “I was just 14 when…. “ This is how Mattie Ross begins her tale about the events that led her to employ Rooster Cogburn, US Marshal and bounty hunter. Her father and a hired hand, Tom Chaney, had gone to Fort Smith, Arkansas on farm business. When the Ross family received news that Chaney had murdered Mattie’s father, Mattie goes to Fort Smith to claim the body and settle things up. While the family believes Mattie will finish up quickly and return, Mattie has another mission that isn’t negotiable. Since her father was a stranger in Fort Smith, the locals aren’t very concerned with bringing his killer to justice. “No doubt, Chaney fancied him self scot free,” Mattie tells us. “There is nothing free except the grace of God.” And Mattie intends to make Chaney pay.
No one takes Mattie seriously when she sets out to hire someone to track Chaney and bring him to justice. She’s just a young girl, and this is a man’s world. “By brother is a child, and my mother is indecisive and hobbled by grief.” When Mattie finally manages to strike an agreement with Rooster Cogburn, she lets him know she’s planning on joining the manhunt. “You have misjudged me if you expect me to give you money and watch you depart.” Cogburn is used to finding men who want to lose themselves; surly he can manage to lose a 14-year old girl.” By the time he sets off, the talkative Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (pronounced la-beef) has joined the manhunt, and Mattie has gotten herself a “spirited” horse. But she is still not a welcome member of the posse.
Joel and Ethan Coen loved the original Charles Portis novel and felt it had not been fully developed, even though the 1969 film version with John Wayne was much loved. They set out to make a film that was much closer to the original novel in both feel and plot development. Unlike many of their films, this one isn’t a Coen-brothers original. But it’s easy to see why they were attracted to this project. The quirky irony of the dialog and narrative has the feel of a Coen-brothers film, while the film is true to the tradition of a classic western. Those not familiar with Southern/Midwestern linguistic flourishes may find the dialog a bit odd at times. While it’s exaggerated to be sure, it’s not out of character with the language of the time and place. Occasionally, choice lines will speed by without time to fully process them, but there’s no shortage of choice lines. It’s best to let yourself be transported, without imposing modern criteria on the story or the storytelling. For Mattie, it’s all quite simple. “When I have bought and paid for something, I intend to have my way.” Nothing else much matters.
4 popped kernels
Artfully captures the adventure, humor and irony of the Wild West.
Primary Audience: Young adults
Gender Appeal: Any audience
Distribution: Mainstream wide release
Mood: Neither upbeat nor somber
Tempo: Zips right along
Visual Style: Nicely varnished realism
Character Development: Engaging
Social Significance: Pure entertainment