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52 Movies: Week 31 - True Grit

My stepdaughter has recently become interested in movies not starring teeny-boppers. I think it began with wanting me to watch movies with her at night, and her knowing I will not watch just anything. We started by making our way through all of the Quentin Tarantino films, and now we are sporadically (not by date) going through the Coen Brothers oeuvre. I told her that Fargo and No Country For Old Men were probably the top two. She liked the former a lot, but not so much the latter. She picked True Grit last night as our next one, and I was okay with that. I had fond memories of seeing it a few times and had though it enjoyable. What I did not think would happen during this third viewing is that I would feel it is every bit as good as the two previously mentioned films, and in some ways better.

I went to see True Grit in our downtown independent movie theatre here in Mobile. Often times before a movie begins the owner will come out and say a little something about it. What he said about this one is that we would quickly notice that the people in the film did not use contractions when they spoke. He informed us that there was a time in America when the English language used was more “proper” than it is today. I did not know that. Nor do I know if it is true. However, he was correct, and it’s fun to watch the movie and see when and who might fall out of this and say “don’t” (for instance) instead of “do not”.

Suffice to say that the dialogue in True Grit is quite engaging. I laughed so much at what the three main characters were saying that I probably missed much of it. So it is a good movie to re-watch. For one thing, this version of Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) speaks in such a low guttural tone that you really need to become used to his cadence to really understand him. The Mattie Ross character is played by a young girl named Hailee Steinfeld, and she is just outstanding. Matt Damon holds his own as the Texas Ranger LaBoeuf. Bridges and Steinfeld were both nominated for Academy Awards, and deservedly so.

I should probably mention what most I’m sure already know, that this is a remake of a 1969 film starring John Wayne. Wayne won his only Oscar in his portrayal of Rooster Cogburn. I know I have seen the older movie, but I have little memory of it. John Wayne movies are all kind of lumped together in my mind – his own character being bigger than any singular one of any movie he made. At the time of the release of their movie the Coen Brothers stated that their version would more correctly follow the book, written by Charles Portis. The book is written from the viewpoint of the Mattie Ross character, which is how this newer movie version is told.

Mattie travels from Yell County, Arkansas up to Fort Smith in order to collect her father’s body and seek to catch the man who killed him. She is only fourteen, but quite precocious and smart; she will not be taken advantage of by adults seeking to treat her like a child. There is a scene involving Mattie and a shop owner that is just priceless. He is haggling with her, letting her know what he will and will not do involving two ponies, a horse, and other goods which I can’t recall. At the beginning of the scene he is almost not paying attention to her. But as the parley continues he is more and more drawn in, and shocked that a young girl can be so bold to challenge him. This lets us know what to expect from Mattie Ross for the remainder of the movie.

I said I don’t really remember what John Wayne was like in his Oscar-winning portrayal of Rooster Cogburn, but I have the idea that other than the eye patch there probably is not much in common between these two characters. I’m a big fan of Jeff Bridges and sometimes have to defend his acting from naysayers who seem to think he is playing the same slightly different version of one character for the past twenty years. The Fisher King, The Big Lebowski, Crazy Heart, and now True Grit. Well, I suppose there is a little similarity in these characters, but his Rooster Cogburn was really quite a singular achievement. The voice he uses which I already alluded to; the way he seems to peer with his one eye in so many scenes; his casual ease with Mattie as he tells her stories; his quick wit when arguing with LaBoeuf. He is so pathetic and at the same time so heroic that he really wins you over. I thought Bridges should have traded in his Oscar from Crazy Heart and earned it instead for this role. He is something else!

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I’m trying to not give away too much of the story, but in its set-up the viewer is already going to have an idea of how it all turns out. As far as I know the original might be quite memorable for some of you, and perhaps ends in much the same way. I don’t remember at all. Suffice to say that it is the familiar “there and back again” theme without an unwilling hobbit being drawn along. The main characters must either catch or kill the man who they are chasing into the Oklahoma Territory, and they do so at risk to themselves.

The main storyline takes place around 1878, post-Civil War period. Wikipedia states that it was filmed mostly outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico and the cinematography by Roger Deakins is beautiful. The acting is great, the story is interesting, the dialogue is first rate, there is very little offensive (it is a Western so expect dead bodies). True Grit is a great Coen Brothers movie that fans of theirs might not think about when droning on about their wonderful films. Watch it!

—Stu Moore is a friend of the proprietor of this blog. If not lolling in his university office cavalierly responding to outside stimuli, he can often be found walking a dog, or reading a book.


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I love this movie. When it first came out, I went to see it twice in the same week. I haven't done that since 1970.

I love the book too, and the movie is very close to the book. That lack of contractions is in the book, but I wonder how widespread that would have been. I never noticed it in the Little House books, for instance. It may just be that the actors pronounce the words so distinctly. They do this in both movies.

There is an underlying theme of Justice vs. Mercy from the very beginning of the movie, which is also true to the book. There is also an obvious relationship to the movie, Night of the Hunter.

And yes, Maclin, you should watch it or at least read the book.


Yes, I remember you urging me to see it when it came out, and I still haven't done it. I will at least put it on the queue (if it's on Netflix).

It is, I did, and even put it in the next position after Vera. Which we continue not to get. Either it's really popular or they only have one or two copies and people are not returning it.

That's a good post, Stu. Thanks.


Vera must be very popular because it cost $3.99 to stream on Amazon.


Wow. I don't use Amazon very often but isn't $1.99 the usual price?

Yes, this is a very excellent post. One of many. I was paging through the whole series earlier looking for Stu's byline from his last one and was really struck by the high quality.

Usually $1.99 for SD and $2.99 for HD. Except for the first 30 seconds or so, I can't tell the difference.


The newer episodes of Vera cost less.


Thank you both. I had watched it the night before which is I think the only way I can intelligently write about a movie.

Great piece, Stu. It's not one of my favorite Coen films, but I did like it enough to see it twice.

I have seen it twice. The scene with the bear is just so wonderfully surreal. The comedy of the girl determined on justice is so well delivered.

I had completely forgotten the bear.


Its great!

I looked it up after I read what you said, and when I saw the bear, I remembered. I can't believe I forgot that.


Rob, which are your favorites? I love Fargo, and of course The Big Lebowski. I don't think Lebowski is a great movie, but (again) the Jeff Bridges character turns it into what it has become, a cult classic. But I also like The Hudsucker Proxy a lot (one that critics did not like), and it is hard to deny that No Country For Old Men is pretty amazing. Tommy Lee Jones gives such a subtle performance that I find fun to watch over and over again.

No Country..., O Brother, and Big L are probably my three favorites. Next group would be Blood Simple, Miller's Crossing, Fargo, Burn After Reading and True Grit.

I've only seen Hudsucker once and it was years ago. I like the rest, just not as much. The only movie of theirs that I actively disliked was The Ladykillers.

We watched The Ladykillers just the other night and I had forgotten how bad it was. Though it does have echoes of O Brother with its Southern motif. There is hardly anything positive to say about it.

Burn After Reading is the only one on your two lists that stands out as suspect. My memory has one very funny part involving John Malkovich and alcoholism...but I haven't re-watched it yet!

I can't resist chiming in with my Coen Brothers favourites. Top of the heap for me is Fargo, with No Country for Old Men close behind. I'm also a big fan of their "serious comedies" like A Serious Man and Hail, Caesar!, and I've liked The Hudsucker Proxy, Barton Fink, and O Brother well enough to watch them a few times. A couple leave me cold (including True Grit, I'm afraid).

The only Coen Brothers film I actively dislike is The Big Lebowski. True, I've only seen it once, but... egad. I'm in a minority. What do people like about this movie?

I haven't yet seen Raising Arizona.

Well, that's interesting about Lebowski, Craig. I didn't actively dislike it...well, not quite anyway...but I wasn't keen on it, either, so you're not a minority of one.

I guess when it comes down to it I'm only a mild fan of the Coens. I've seen maybe half of the titles y'all have named, and liked them all in varying degrees, but didn't think any of them were exactly great, either. I suppose I'd put Fargo or No Country at the top, probably #2 and #1 respectively. No Country seems atypical for them, in that there's absolutely nothing ironic about it. A pretty painful film to watch, but mighty good.

As I said above, Lebowski is not really a great movie, and maybe not even good. It is all about the characters. So if you can't get into The Dude and Walter and find them to be a riot then I suppose you would hate it. If you do get into them you find yourself throwing quotes out at people for years and years, which is of course annoying for those people. It's really the perfect "cult" film, not great, just very memorable. Think Rocky Horror .... someone should write about that one!

I venture to say that Mac would have found Lebowski funny back in his misspent youth. Now he is too anti-anti-establishment! :)

Craig, I watched the Big Lebowski a couple of years ago, and I was so bored I could not finish it. It may have been my own fault - I just didn't get into the right suspension of disbelief mode. I might try again some time. I just couldn't concentrate on it.

I love Fargo, Burn After Reading, A Serious Man, O Brother Where Art Thou, and True Grit.

Hail Cesar left me a bit cold. It was alright, but for the Cohen brothers I thought a little mediocre. There's one with constant shots of a mouldy hotel corridor which is not a favourite for me.

Probably its the ones that veer too much into magic realism that I don't like, and I abominate the Tolkeineque ones.

Janet, the bear scene was in the trailer, so I was looking forward to it even before I saw it in the movie.

I forgot No Country for Old Men, which I do think is a great and terrifying movie!

I did like some scenes from Big L. I like it when he got out of the cab because the driver was playing the Eagles on the radio. That really struck a nerve for me!

I didn't like The Big L. at all. Didn't finish watching it.

I would say that I love No Country, but it's hard to say that about such an horrific thing.


I wasn't totally unamused by Big L, I did get some laughs out of it and wouldn't be averse to seeing it again, but I just didn't find it as immensely and memorably funny as some people apparently do. Actually, Stu, I think your mention of age may have something to do with it. It seems that the people who go around quoting like Monty Python, as you describe and as Rob has previously mentioned, are middle-aged but significantly younger than me. That may just be the people I happen to know. Not sure how it's regarded among the yet-younger.

And is it partly a guy thing? Here are two female testimonials to at-best-indifference.

As I was writing the previous comment I tried to think of some relatively recent movie that I find as cultishly funny and memorable as Stu and Rob do Big L, and couldn't think of one. But two minutes later I remembered: of course--I just wrote about it here--Napoleon Dynamite. Excuse me while I go make myself a dang quesadilla.

I've seen four of their movies, Fargo, No Country for Old Men, True Grit, and Burn After Reading. Fargo was the first I saw and I think it was the best. Mostly because of the way it showed the caring, workaday relationships between the characters, the good guys not the bad guys.

I think that the irony in their films is what prevents them from being great, as opposed to just good or very good. They don't have a serious enough moral vision to push them over the line from good to great.

On the other hand, I think that their sense of irony works better in the comedies than in the dramas, which is probably why I tend to like the comedies better. O Brother is one of my favorite comedies of the past 20 years. And as Mac said, it's their least ironic drama, No Country..., that's their best.

The Big L is definitely a guy movie. It's basically a very intelligently- written frathouse comedy. It is primarily about the characters, but I think it's the dialogue that ultimately makes it so memorable. The plot, such as it is, is fairly inconsequential.

I'd say I'm a big fan of the Coens because I virtually always find their work worth watching, even if it doesn't always qualify as "great." In other words it's their track record more than the cumulative greatness of individual films.

Rob, I agree. I'm thinking that there's not many living directors where I want 'to see the new X - film by that director' when it comes out. The only ones who come to mind are the Coens and Malick. I concede I want 'to see the new Bourne' but that's not quite the same thing!

Marianne, I think its worth your while to see A Serious Man.

Rob G., I used to argue with a bunch of Paleo-Cons way way back in the days of list serves, and I can remember them objecting to the irony. They always said you could not tell which side the Coens were on, in Fargo, for instance, because the irony kind of winked at you both ways. There's an element of truth in that, but I also think about the only way one can make a moral point these days is ironically. Otherwise it feels overwhelming and patronizing.

Did any one see the one from around 2014 which is about a folk singer in Greenwich Village. I thought it was enjoyable but very gloomy.

Inside Llewn Davis, yes it is underrated I think. Good movie.

"The only ones who come to mind are the Coens and Malick."

Zhang Yimou is in that category for me, and Jeff Nichols has moved into it. David Lynch was there for me, but he's not done anything in 10 years.

"enjoyable but very gloomy"

Yes, that's my take as well. I did like the music a lot (I went to see it a second time primarily for the songs) and Oscar Isaac's performance was very good, but on the whole, it was a bit of a downer.

"I also think about the only way one can make a moral point these days is ironically. Otherwise it feels overwhelming and patronizing."

I think it depends on the nature of the irony though. The Coens' sort of irony is dfferent from that of, say, Wes Anderson. The Grand Budapest Hotel is in some ways a very Coen-esque movie, but its irony has a different kind of wink. You get the sense that Anderson cares about his characters in a way that the Coens often seem not to. If the Coens had made GBH it may have been funnier (perhaps), but it would probably have been less "human," less moving.

And a director like Malick or Jeff Nichols can make unironic moral points without coming across as heavy-handed. But I do admit such folks are few and far between.

Zhang Yimou Nichols, yes, and Majid Majidi.


I must have missed something in Fargo, because there was no doubt in my mind which "side" the film was on.

I must watch this again. I enjoyed it a lot when I first saw it. Thanks, Stu!

You do not fathom the bottomlesss cynicism of the paoconsetvative mind

I guess I can see the paleo objection to Fargo, but I agree more with Paul. The fact that the film had a jaundiced view of the kidnapee and her situation, and was satirical about Marge (I think that was her name--the cop) didn't lessen the sense of outrage at the kidnappers' savagery and the husband's corruption and stupidity. At least it didn't seem that way to me.

My memory is that they said the treatment of Marge is so ironic you cannot tell if she actually represents goodness in the film. I think that's not true.

Has anyone watched Arthur and George. I thought it was pretty good.


No, I haven't.

I agree about Marge, Grumpy. I had no doubt she was good even though a lot of things about her were portrayed humorously. No contradiction there. Been a long time since I saw the movie but that's how I remember it.

I don't think the humour (or the irony) of Marge's character overwhelms or undermines her at all. She is good through and through. The domestic scenes of her and her husband are essential to establishing her character.

Just finished watching True Grit. Loved it!

I've only told you that about a million times.


Now you need to watch Night of the Hunter while True Grit is fresh in your mind.


"I am hardly obliged to answer the ravings of a drunkard. It is beneath me."

"Who's in there?"

"A Methodist and a son of a bitch."

One great line or exchange after another.

Sorry, Janet, Night of the Hunter is not on the already way overcrowded agenda. But I did put it on my Netflix list.

Well, when you get to it, you will wonder why the heck you are watching it because you won't remember TG.


By the way, the current sleeper hit Hell or High Water is very much worth a look. Bridges plays a character who's a bit like a cross between his Rooster Cogburn and Tommy Lee Jones.

Haven't even heard of it. I'm hardly even aware of current movies.

Maybe, Janet. Sometimes my memory works, though. :-)

Well, in Memphis it's only playing at the theatre that has art films, so it's probably not advertised much.

Can you remember the last time it did? ;-)


Hey, I've remembered A Simple Plan since 2009!

We only have your word that anything you say in that post is accurate.


Not so--Rob and Craig remember it. Of course they could be conspiring with me.

Patriarchal hegemony.

You must be an impostor. Janet might use the word "patriarchal" but not "hegemony."

I thought it might be some kind of fancy hominy.


Eggs and hominy? Sounds good, patriarchal or matriarchal.

There ya go.


I just realized I missed a great opportunity back there.



Too late. It wouldn't be funny now. I'm covered over with shame.


Very sad.

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