Monday, February 24, 2014

True Grit (2010) - Movie Review

In 2010, the Coen Brothers (infamous for such bizarre epics as O Brother Where Art Thou) released True Grit, a remake of a John Wayne movie. What happened next took everyone by surprise: It was a hit. In fact, it pretty much dethroned the original, with its extraordinary blend of moral clarity, black humor, and phenomenal acting.

I have two primary comments.

One, I never knew that Leaning on the Everlasting Arms was such an excellent Western theme song. It should have been obvious.

Two, it’s a crime that Hailee Steinfeld’s name was not on the front of the case. A crime. Only seldom (I think of Christian Bale and Q’orianka Kilcher) have I seen such impressive child acting.

On that note, it’s really Steinfeld (then fourteen), as Mattie Ross, who carries the movie, despite the presence of big names like Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, and Josh Brolin. 

In the first, beautifully shot moments, we learn that young Mattie’s Ross’s father was murdered by a blackguard named Tom Chaney, who then lit out for Indian Territory, where he was unlikely to ever be apprehended. Little does he know. Mattie sets out to hire the meanest bounty hunter in town: Rooster Cogburn. 

From a personality standpoint, Mattie is a mixture of Lizzy Bennet, drawing her strength from witty, irreverent repartee, and Miss Marple, an unassuming female with a yearning for justice approaching the deific. Mattie’s quest for vengeance is a straightforward one, backed by an iron will and a clear-cut moral vision: “There is nothing free but the grace of God.” This determination, this—dare I say it—grit, spurs her two ersatz companions into action, and eventually, a form of redemption. 

There’s Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn, a scruffy, amoral old codger with a sour temper and a raging thirst. Matt Damon steps way out of his usual typecast, playing a dandified Texas Ranger. Both are phenomenal, chewing through the Coens’ dry, quirky dialogue with zeal. Josh Brolin is also excellent as the Neanderthal-esque Tom Chaney, and a Fort Smith stockbroker is an unsung hero, attempting to barter with the magnificence that is Mattie Ross.

While Mattie’s unwavering resolve to make restitution is admirable and completely untinged by hatred, the darkness that accompanies death is ever-present, though often parodied. (Sometimes this grisly humor goes too far, such as a scene in which one comic character loses his fingers.) Even Mattie cannot keep the world in abstract forever—pain and loss of innocence tear through the veil. A longing for justice is written into our beings, and it can often be a beautiful thing, but it cannot be accomplished without grit, in this face of ugly realities which accompany it. And it always comes at a cost.

There’s not really much that can be said of film itself. It’s darkly hilarious, with characters of Dickensian flair, and a generally unpredictable structure. The ending is unconventional, and therefore somewhat unsatisfying, drifting to a slow, odd halt that I haven’t quite found a way to justify. It’s just a lot of fun, and one of my all-time favorites.

And did I mention Hailee Steinfeld was amazing?

4.5/5 stars

Hannah Long


  1. Agreed about Hailee. And, agreed about the remake easily eclipsing the original. But the real heroes are the Coen boys, who could probably write a screenplay about fingernail-clipping methods and make it unforgettably fun.

    Great film analysis (although your bent for British and crime dramas is showing). ;) Can't wait for the review of Cinderella Man!

    1. My gosh, I had comparisons to Lizzy Bennet, Miss Marple, and Dickens in one post and didn't even notice. I've got it bad. Though in my defense, I had simultaneously been watching Pride and Prejudice, and was noting Austen's heroine's strength through verbal wit, and was rather proud we had an American version.

      The Coens are pretty amazing - though I think they took quite a bit of the lines from the book, albeit giving them their own spin.

  2. Yep. Hallie was incredible. I can't wait to see what else she does. My whole family and I love the movie. All the time they're quoting "That is to say, YOUR EYE." Such a fun movie. The characters are so fun. And such good dialogue!


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