True Grit: A Film Review

True Grit: A Film Review

“People do not give it credence that a fourteen-year-old girl could leave home and go off in the wintertime to avenge her father’s blood.”– Mattie Ross from True Grit

No matter how little you like Westerns, watch this if you are from West Texas. We have local saloon keeper Ty Mitchell playing the part of the ferryman. I love IMDB; who knew that Ty played a ‘scared kid’ in an episode of CHiPS? Stop by his Last Horse Saloon in Marfa when you have time. It’s located in what used to be Ray’s.

I am not a Western fan, but I am an enormous fan of this particular novel and author. (Click Here to Learn More About Charles Portis) In many ways this is not a typical Western. The narrator is a young woman (and not a damsel in distress either) and her peppery, precise voice is what makes this an engaging script.

Kudos to the Coens for filming in Texas, too. The entirety of True Grit was filmed in Austin, Blanco and Granger.

I am happy to report that the Coens kept Portis’s humorous and subtle dialogue in place. There might be four lines of dialogue that don’t originate in the book. The canonical version with John Wayne had a more relaxed, idiomatic tone. This made for a more classic Western, but wrongly eroded the original tone of the book.

It is so rare to have so many laugh-out-loud moments in a Western. They don’t originate from slapstick or broad humor, but rather from the stilted and formal nature of the dialogue. Matty is aloof and crisp (particularly in this sublime portrayal by Hailee Steinwell, unfairly robbed of top billing by contracts and agents) and her righteousness and principles infect the rest of the characters.

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.

The Coens show a remarkable amount of restraint and understatement. In their earlier attempts at genre films, they used irony and camp with a free hand. Here, they allow the strength of the dialogue to shine through. What emerges is fundamentally sentimental, but in the best way possible. It is a story that rings true to the heart.

Set design, costumes, make-up, music etc. were so good that they went unnoticed. Every individual craft of film-making was subsumed to performance and story. And what performances! We may see another ‘double Oscar’ (occurring with two portrayals of Don Corleone) earned by two different portrayals of Rooster Cogburn. Jeff Bridges brings just enough levity and gumption to his portrait of a brave, but flawed man.

It is strange that Bridges is both in this and in Tron:Legacy. It acts as an object lesson in film-making. Tron compensates for forgettable characters, tepid dialogue and a confused plot with amazing visual effects and over-the-top production design. True Grit takes the opposite tack in reviving a classic; action scenes are rare, it is the well-formed characters, sublime perfomances and the polished dialogue that keeps you on the edge of your seat with suspense.

I give this movie my highest rating and urge everyone to see it. Hopefully, it will change your concept of the Western.

5 thoughts on “True Grit: A Film Review

  1. v

    You amaze me, Andrew. Though I’m predisposed to like this movie, your review compels me to go. Your analysis is thoughtful and brilliantly crafted. You have huge talents I’ve not seen here before.

    Do more of this for us please!

  2. Duke

    Excellent review of an incredible film.
    It might be of interest to note that the mountainous area of Eastern Oklahoma which served as the setting for much of the story is the only mountain range in the continental U.S that runs East-West.

  3. Jayson W.R.

    Great review! I too loved the movie and was very impressed with Matt Damon’s acting. I always loved the Lebeouf character but I did not like Glen Campbell’s acting in the original.