Wednesday, June 27, 2012

True Grit

The film opens with a Bible verse: The wicked flee when none pursueth,... Proverbs 28:1. Then a dark, snowy shot of a man lying dead on the ground as his murderer gallops away with his horse, and his two California gold pieces. The dead man's daughter, and our heroine, Mattie Ross explains that the killer could've walked the horse out of town, because no one could be bothered to chase him. At fourteen years old, she must take matters into her own hands. She does this by hiring the meanest US Marshal available to help her track down the half-witted killer Tom Chaney, and have him hanged to avenge her fathers murder. Rooster Cogburn is the Marshal of her choice because she heard he had grit. A Texas Ranger, LeBeouf, a rather ridiculous man who jingles when he walks, wants the fugitive too, and eventually, the odd trio set out together on an adventure that would forever change the lot of them.

Let me just go ahead and say right now; I'm having a very hard time thinking of something I didn't like about this movie. This is the sort of movie I decide to watch for whatever reason, but once it's over, I only want to watch it more than before it began. I  know it's strange, but it's true, and mildly annoying. And for me, this almost magical and annoying feeling qualifies a movie as great, then I just have to figure out why. This is for sure one of those movies. The why? Well, everything. From the usual things like acting and cinematography, to details like costumes, and every individual line, True Grit has my official stamp of approval. And there's no way I'll be able to list all the little details that are included in why I like it so much, but I'll see what I can do.

The first thing that strikes me about this movie is the wonderful acting and the deep characters it creates. Every time I watch this movie I notice, or discover something different, or go a little deeper into the characters and plot. One thing I've always known though, is that Mattie is the one with the true grit. Cogburn looks and acts like it, and LeBeouf brags about it, but Mattie's truly got it. And Hailee Steinfeld does a perfect job conveying exactly that. Her honesty and pure determination is amazing, but you always believe she's a fourteen year old girl, however remarkable. Rooster is gritty in his appearance, always dirty and scraggly, drunk, and bellowing out witty insults or mumbling on about nothing. He's good at what he does and probably thought something of himself until Mattie came along and showed him up. But he's got a heart of gold underneath... somewhere. Jeff Bridges was of course, perfectly cast for this part, and is hilarious in it. Who would have thought they'd ever enjoy watching a drunk one-eyed man stumbling around and shooting things at random? The Texas Ranger, Lebeouf, is seriously puffed-up, and thinks he's all that, but really doesn't have a clue. He gets put in his place several times by his companions, but somehow always manages to recollect his pride again, until the next put-down. Matt Damon here is playing a man who only thinks he's as cool and suave as Damon's usual characters, like Bourne, and that is rather fun to see. I'd like to mention two more people briefly, the first being Josh Brolin as Tom Chaney, who doesn't have much screen time, but is quite satisfactory, most certainly a dim-wit, and I appreciate the time he gets. And the other is Barry Pepper as Lucky Ned Pepper, leader of the group of outlaws Chaney falls in with, who is great, and has the most amazing teeth. I really enjoyed watching spittle fly from his mouth and he yelled too.

I haven't seen many of the Coen brothers' movies, but I have a lot of respect for them as directors and writers. Especially as a team, they always seem to create something that is at the very least worth watching. Their style is a very specific kind of strange, and usually thought-provoking with just the right kind, and amount of violence and humor for the particular film. And True Grit is no exception. The realistic violence is shown without shame, but at the same time it isn't blatant; it's there because the story requires it, and I appreciate that. And the humor is wonderfully dry, and worthy of a real laugh, but sometimes has a interesting serious side to it. I love that about the movie; it's entertaining on the most shallow level, but if you want, you can look deeper and deeper, and see some really great truths about life, and the human character. Which, in my opinion, only makes the movie better every time you see it, and find something new buried there.

Also making the movie better, each in their own way are the smaller, but by no means less important details. Like LeBeoufs ridiculous outfit. The cinematography is absolutely breathtaking too, I especially liked the first shot, and of course the scenery. And the score is lovely, but appropriate, regularly going back to the theme of the hymn, "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms."

As I said, I liked the first shot of the movie, where Mattie's father lies dead in the newly falling snow, the frame ever so slowly moves toward him as she begins to tell us the sad tale of his murder, at the appropriate moment, said murderer breaks through the shot, sending snow flying, and making his getaway, however temporary. This pairs wonderfully with the last shot. A now much older Mattie stands alone by her avenged fathers grave, as she finishes telling us her story, she turns and walks away. A western-accented woman gravely sings the theme hymn, as we watch our heroine slowly shrink into the distance. Successfully wrapping up this beautifully gritty film in a neat, re- and re-watchable package.

-5/5 stars


  1. Have you ever seen the original, starring John Wayne? He is my favorite movie star ever, but... I liked this version better. In fact, you've got me wanting to see it again. I also read the book after I saw this version, and it was so powerful!

    1. I have, but I liked this version a considerably more. Never read the book though...

    2. This had more depth of feeling, I think. Plus, Kim Darby really got on my nerves as Mattie Ross, more annoying than determined.

      The book's dialog is very like what's in this version, which made it a joy to read, as I could hear the characters very clearly. Such an interesting dialog style, almost a patter.

    3. Yes, and yes, definitely. Hailee Steinfeld did such an amazing and not at all annoying job.

      Yeah, I picked up the book at a store one time and read a page or so, and it seemed to be pretty good, and very close to this movie. I'll have to read the whole thing someday.