True Grit (2010)


They all look so MEAN!
They all look so MEAN! Well not her...

Genre: Western

Starring: Jeff Bridges (The Last Picture ShowTRON), Hailee Steinfeld (Ender’s Game)

Directed By:  Ethan & Joel Coen (Raising ArizonaThe Big Lebowski)

Overview: When a man is murdered, his daughter hires a U.S. Marshall to catch him, insisting that she come along to guarantee her bounty.

Anyone who’s seen a good handful of Coen films will tell you that their scripts are what make their films exceptional. In fact, when an actor ad-libs, their response tends to be “That’s nice. Now could you try it exactly the way it’s written?” I even read that they sometimes practice the very cadence of some dialogue with their actors. All that to say, if your name is Coen, you’re going to be a stickler for one thing, and everyone knows that thing is words. Not surprisingly, we find yet another perfectly-written script in the hands of the Coen Brothers, and again done with genius.

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 fled. He could have walked his horse, for not a soul in that city could be bothered to give chase. No doubt Chaney fancied himself scot-free. But he was wrong. You must pay for everything in this world, one way and another. There is nothing free, except the grace of God. - Mattie Ross

And when the weapons come out, it's as exciting as the witty repartée
And when the weapons come out, it's as exciting as the witty reparté.

With these opening lines, the young Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) heads to the town her daddy was killed in to hire a U.S. Marshall to do justice to the murderer Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin). When given a choice of men, she picks the obvious, “The meanest is Rooster Cogburn; a pitiless man, double tough. Fear don't enter into his thinking.” Rooster (Jeff Bridges) is old, fat, one-eyed and usually drunk, but accepts the bounty Mattie offers. For her part, Mattie is intelligent, and has a shrewd skill for negotiation – the horse-trading scene is phenomenal, highlighting not only the Coens’ glorious wordsmithing, but Hailee’s acting skills, not to mention the terrific performance by Dakin Matthews as negotiatee Col. Stonehill. At the same time, Mattie’s not the perfect heroine. Glib of tongue as she may be, she is equally cursed with youth, womanhood and an appropriate naiveté. Though wise and artful for her age, she’s ever perceived as nothing more than a female child by those about her, and sometimes shows off her inexperience by using the civilized leverage of good lawyers as argument in renegade territories, or talking about how joining in the search for a murderous band and sleeping in the open air would be a lot like the coon-hunt her father took her on once.

This pair would be sufficient for a great tale, but becomes memorable with the addition of LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), a proud, adventure-posing Lord-Don’t-I-Just-Love-Texas Ranger who’s been after Tom Chany for some time. The three of them have a wonderful dynamic, but True Grit doesn’t end with some hasty finale. It’s far more elaborate, allowing us the time to be properly introduced to the men they’re chasing, led by Lucky Ned Pepper (Barry Pepper). The streak that is Coen’s regular complement of quirk adds a comedic hanging scene and oddball characters like the obviously mad bear-pelted doctor of the wild (Ed Corbin), making in True Grit an exciting film that combines the distinct Coen signature found in films like The Ladykillers and The Big Lebowski with the seriousness and heart-thumping thrills of Fargo and Barton Fink.

As I sign off, I also wanted to mention the final song that plays during the credits. "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms" sung by Iris DeMent, is definitely worth mention.

Who knew an old one-eye could be so cool.
Who knew an old one-eye could be so cool.

Performance: 9 Cinematography: 8 Script: 10 Plot: 8 Mood: 9

Overall Rating: 88% (Not Too Tough To Swallow)

Having seen the original John Wayne True Grit (1969), it’s no contest saying this one is better. Let me be clearer: True Grit is the latest, greatest Coen Brothers film that serves as a reminder that their oeuvre is truly worthy of exploration.

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You reminded me... I don't know why I didn't think of this until now... Night of the Hunter!  'Leaning on the everlasting arms' from Night of the Hunter!   Damn, now I wish I would have talked about that in my review.

A very good movie and the best Coen Brother's film I've ever seen.  Very happy to see that they didn't inject their usual combination of doldrums and nonsensicality into this film.

As always: another great review.

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