I saw True Grit at the dollar theater a couple of nights ago. My sister went with me; she was seeing it for the second time.
Overall, the movie was excellent. I was inordinately excited to see that Barry Pepper had a role in it. I think he’s a tremendous actor who doesn’t get enough work that is seen by lots of people.
So on to the review.
The movie follows Mattie Ross (Haley Steinfield in a much-deserved Oscar-nominated role), a quick and smart and determined young woman, as she does her very best to bring her father’s murderer to justice. Or death. She’ll take either, it seems. She narrates the story as well, so we know from the start that she’s going to survive the ordeal.
Mattie does some excellent negotiating and ends up with enough cash to pay a US Marshal to hunt down Tom Cheney, her dad’s killer. After hearing about his grit and watching Reuben ‘Rooster’ Cogburn (Jeff Bridges– another Oscar-nom) describe- in a courtroom scene which is just excellent- his actions in hunting down some men wanted by the law, Mattie decides to employ him. He takes some convincing, then when he agrees to hunt Cheney down, he balks when Mattie says she’s coming along.
She shows her determination when she buys a horse and catches up with Cogburn after he tries to take off without her.
Along for the ride is LaBoeuf (Matt Damon). He is somewhat prim and has interesting quirks and is also a Texas Ranger- a fact which he doesn’t let anyone forget and about which he is very proud. LaBoeuf makes a claim about being able to shoot a target from 300 yards with his precise rifle. He is not believed.
The story clips right along and Bridges does a very good job with the changes that come over Cogburn. He’s obviously not a shirker when it comes to brutality, but his growing affection and respect for Mattie make him surprisingly talkative and he ends up calling on her for help in some risky endeavors.
LaBoeuf at first is the comedic relief. His mannerisms, way of talking and suspected hyperbole make him quite laughable at times, and then he blunders into a violent mess and nearly bites his tongue through- making him funnier to listen to.
But the pacing, writing and acting are done with such a deft touch that as we follow this trio in their hunt for a murderer, we find out that they are all people, and people we want to become friends with. LaBoeuf has a powerful sense of right and wrong and honor. Cogburn has his own sense of the same, and also seems to have a feeling that he is invincible. He drinks whiskey with great enthusiasm as well.
Mattie, and I deliberately left her for last, is the quintessence of plucky and determined, as hackneyed and cliched as those terms are. She’s smarter than both men, willing to ride into any danger, spends her first night in the story sleeping among dead bodies, and I would like to have met a girl like her when I was fourteen. Steinfield is so good, has such a sense of who this girl is, and imbues this girl with such a beautiful emotional core that I couldn’t take my eyes off her. This girl has a great future in the business, that is if casting directors have any idea of what they are doing (I’m looking at YOU, casting director for almost anything with Keanu Reeves).
Cheney, the murderer is played by Josh Brolin. It’s a small part, but he has a good time with it. I’d been wondering when Brolin would show up, since he’s taken Clooney’s spot as the Coen brothers’ go-to guy. Another bad guy is Lucky Ned, played by Barry Pepper. This is also a small role, but he does a great job and is very convincing with his desperado mixed with plains nobility tone.
I think the acting was nearly the strongest part of the show.
But production design and costuming carried their weight well. The excellently authentic courtroom scene, with its precise procedures and outstanding language, started things off marvelously. What’s more, the town, the businesses, the peripheral characters and the settings just set the perfect tone for the film.
I loved that the town really looked like what these old towns looked like– cities in embryo. Most western movies’ towns look like future ghost towns with sad, flimsy facades to buildings and one road going one place- straight through the town.
Then there was the costuming. So good. You could almost smell Cogburn. And the bear man looked perfect. The colors, the hats, the horse tack- I saw no flaws at all.
I really loved this movie. It didn’t have a huge emotional impact on me like The Fighter or Robin Hood did, but I was transported and did not note the passage of time.
And the Coen brothers deserve laud, too. That they didn’t try to outdo or redo the John Wayne classic has much to say about their ability to create great film. One great reason for my opinion of their writing is the dialect. You hear maybe one contraction in the entire movie. The language used in the movie is very nicely and deftly done. I haven’t read the book, but I’m going to now. They’ve inspired me to.
Finally, there is a very important reason to see this movie. It is to answer the question: Who is it that has true grit? Cogburn or Mattie?
Details: The movie has a couple graphically violent scenes. A man’s fingers are chopped off, several people are shot- one in the head rather messily and most of them at close range. Blood doesn’t spray or spatter except for in one scene. Language is dialectical. No nudity.
(Pens represent writing, cameras represent acting, and screens are a combination of all the film’s elements)