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!
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.