Following the murder of her father by hired hand Tom Chaney, 14-year-old farm girl Mattie Ross sets out to capture the killer. To aid her, she hires the toughest U.S. marshal she can find, a man with "true grit," Reuben J. "Rooster" Cogburn. Mattie insists on accompanying Cogburn, whose drinking, sloth, and generally reprobate character do not augment her faith in him. Against his wishes, she joins him in his trek into the Indian Nations in search of Chaney. They are joined by Texas Ranger LaBoeuf, who wants Chaney for his own purposes. The unlikely trio find danger and surprises on the journey, and each has his or her "grit" tested. Written by
Jim Beaver <firstname.lastname@example.org>
This was the last film that famed cinematographer Roger Deakins shot on film before switching to digital technology. See more »
When Ned Pepper is pinning Mattie Ross with his boot in The Winding Stair Mountains, after the first pan down at Mattie and pan back to Ned you hear the director yell "Action". See more »
People do not give it credence that a young girl could leave home and go off in the wintertime to avenge her father's blood. But it did happen. I was just 14 years of age when a coward by the name of Tom Chaney shot my father down and robbed him of his life and his horse and two California gold pieces that he carried in his trouser band. Chaney was a hired man and Papa had taken him up to Fort Smith to help lead back a string of Mustang ponies he'd bought. In town, Chaney had ...
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Drew Houpt is credited as "The New Duke", an apparent reference to John Wayne ('The Duke') who starred in the original film. See more »
Few directors working today in America have mastered form like the Coens, I discover this with every new film they make. True Grit is a commercial film made to please but I don't see a compromise in the making and it's still a distinctly Coen film if you pay notice. Try to take out the Coen character from the film and the film breaks apart, it's that tightly woven in the fabric of it.
A Coen film works for me in the face of it, but I'm always on the lookout for what goes on behind, for the unseen cogs that grind out the fates of their characters. As with No Country, I came to this film looking to see is there a statement on violence, does it happen in a certain way and is the universe indifferent to it, is life worth a damn?
This one here works very much like the Henry Hathaway film from '69, except everyone's better, where John Wayne played a character, Jeff Bridges plays a man, and even Barry Pepper betters my beloved Robert Duvall's turn as Ned Pepper. This probably won't do it for Jeff Bridges because we've been accustomed to expect a certain degree of po-faced seriousness from a great performance (he snarled and staggered in Crazy Heart but he was serious about it), but he's one of the great actors of our times and I find this again in his Rooster Cogburn. Clint Eastwood also fell from a horse in Unforgiven and couldn't shoot a tin can to save his soul, but Munny "was" a scumbag, Cogburn still is and I like that. I like the courtroom scene where it's gradually revealed that he won't only bushwack those he needs to bring to justice, he will lie to make himself out to be the hero.
Another interesting aspect here is how the concept of the gunslinger and the western with it has evolved. When John Wayne played Cogburn in the Hathaway film the reward for the audience was the smirk of watching John Wayne be that drunken failure. The casting mattered in our appreciation. In the remake, most comments seem to point out that it's a fairly traditional/entertaining western. The dastardly revisit of something that was revisionist in the 70's oddly seems to give, in our day, a traditional western. We've been accustomed to heroes who are not heroes, and maybe the erosion of that heroic archetype says something about the way we view the world now, as opposed to 30-40 years ago. Then we were beginning to realize that wars are not gloriously, justly won but survived and endured, now we know there is no clear struggle between dual opposites and have grown disenchanted as that knowledge has failed to prevent the same wars. Now we know there is stuff about the legends that don't make the print, or we are suspicious enough about legends to imagine them.
Is this a traditional western then? Watching True Grit through the eyes of the brass 14yo girl reminded me of Winter's Bone, another film from the same year. In both cases a young girl is determined to plunge herself in a dark world of hurt and walk a path fraught with perils on all sides to achieve a moral purpose, both films maintain an appearance of realism, but what I get from them is a magical fantasy. This becomes more apparent when Mattie falls in the snakepit, but what about the hanged men who are really hanged high? The Hathaway film, ostensibly based on the same material, missed that note and played out a straight western. The Coen film unfolds as a hazy dream of that West. Although I wished for more open landscapes, it makes sense then that film narrows our gaze and clouds the margins. Perhaps we are even seeing the film as Mattie relives the experience in her old age, an affair shaped by memory and time.
This is the marvellous touch effected by the Coens on the material; the minute recreation of the Old West as a historical place and the odd, incongruous moments found within it annihilate any authority over the material.
The epilogue is important in that aspect.
It's not only that Mattie's revenge didn't accomplish anything, that it was for her merely another practical inconvenience to be bargained, paid for, and settled, like her father's ponies and saddle or the service of the US Marshall before, but that she clings to the memory of it so fiercely. What's horrifying then is not so much the violence of the West but the idealization of that violence. The film closes in a time around the turn of the century, people like Cogburn roosted in Wild West shows for a cheering audience, and Mattie is one of the people who lived to tell the tales. Out of those tales, the western of John Ford and Raoul Walsh emerged to print the legend. In a roundabout fantastic way, the Coens give us the true account, the creation myth behind the western.
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