“You must pay for everything in this world, one way and another. There is nothing free except the grace of God.”
The Scoop: 2010 PG-13, directed by the Coen Brothers and starring Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld and Matt Damon
Tagline: Punishment comes one way or another
Summary Capsule: Teen hires bounty hunters to pursue her father’s killer, fancy words ensue
Justin’s rating: Varmits! Varmits everywhere!
Justin’s review: I can’t recall the last time I saw a Western. It’s just one of those genres that has been niche ever since its hayday in the ’60s, and no matter how many valiant attempts are made to resurrect it, it never seems to come back in vogue. It’s a difficult genre to deal with these days — it’s remarkably non-politically correct, we as a society are over our infatuation for cowboys, and it feels much more limited in storytelling possibilities considering there’s not much other than clichés to mine.
Still, valiant attempts continue, and I must honor them. The latest came in the form of the surprise hit remake of True Grit, which was done by the Coen brothers. Now, it’s been even longer since I’ve seen a Coen brothers film, although I shared my film professor’s infatuation with their blend of quirky dialogue, quirky characters, and quirky tales back in college. True Grit marks their most successful movie ever, in terms of Academy Award nominations, box office, and critical reviews — and deservedly so. It’s a charmingly entertaining film that gives us a Western that doesn’t feel rehashed (even though it… is), and it became the highlight of my movie viewing week to see.
I’d almost forgotten how much the Coen brothers are in love with language, which is prevalent throughout True Grit. It’s a film where the dialogue is a mouthful and almost implausible, but the characters make it work even so. I was hearing words like “braggadocio” and complex back-and-forth exchanges that had me grinning with glee after a long drought of films where the most intelligent phrase heard is “We’ve got company!”
The language seems to fit the genre perfectly, because this was a different time and place than it is today. And while I’m sure people spoke more like the characters in Deadwood than what we hear here, there’s an eloquence to the banter than rings true. All I’m saying is that if you can’t sit back and enjoy well-written conversations, then you’re going to hate this film.
Both this film and the previous John Wayne version are based on a 1968 novel about a girl who hires a U.S. Marshal to find her father’s killer — and bring him to justice. Unlike most 14-year-old girls that you might see in the mall, Mattie (Hailee Steinfeld) is as serious, composed and determined as Boba Fett. Despite her age and gender, she doesn’t let anyone get between her and her
vengeance justice. When all she has is sheer stubbornness and a wickedly smart mouth at her back, she becomes easy to cheer on.
Her partners in the quest are an interesting pair of roughnecks. There’s Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), a one-eyed drunk of a marshall who’s nevertheless a good shot and a nice guy under his crusty exterior, and LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), a Texas Ranger who’s out for the bounty on the killer as well. The two adults and Mattie spar verbally, but each of them are admirable and likable in their own way. I like how LaBoeuf is prickly about his ego, offering a prime target for Mattie and Rooster to tease, but he’s also an upstanding hero of sorts.
True Grit is mostly occupied with the journey to find the killer and what this journey means to each of our three principles. There’s a lot of strange encounters, odd individuals (like Bear Guy… what the what was that?), and enjoyable tales on the trail. It’s a smart film that doesn’t apologize for it, nor does it descend into depressing nihilism the way that recent Westerns feel they have to do to be all counter-culture.
Rootin-tootin’ fun. That’s my final word.
- Jeff Bridges was two years younger than John Wayne was when he portrayed the character of Rueben J “Rooster” Cogburn in the original True Grit
- The first Coen Brothers film to gross over $100 million in the United States.
- Because of child labor laws, the Coens were unable to film any scenes past midnight with Hailee Steinfeld (especially difficult because the movie contains many night scenes), and because of scheduling problems, any time there is a shot of another character over Mattie’s shoulder or back, Mattie is played by an adult double, not Steinfeld.
Mattie Ross: You must pay for everything in this world, one way and another. There is nothing free except the grace of God.
Mattie Ross: But we promised to bury the poor soul inside!
Rooster Cogburn: Ground’s too hard. Them men wanted a decent burial, they should have got themselves killed in summer.
LaBoeuf: I’ve just come from Yell County.
Mattie Ross: We have no rodeo clowns in Yell County.
LaBoeuf: A saucy line will not get you far with me.
Cross-examining Lawyer: So, you say that when Amos Wharton raised his axe, you backed away from him.
Rooster Cogburn: That’s right.
Cross-examining Lawyer: In what direction were you going?
Rooster Cogburn: Backwards. I always go backwards when I back up.
Undertaker: If you would like to sleep in a coffin, it would be all right.
Mattie Ross: [cutting the rope on the tree] Why did they hang him so high?
Rooster Cogburn: I do not know. Possibly in the belief it’d make him more dead.
Rooster Cogburn: It astonishes me that Mr. LaBoeuf has been shot, trampled, and nearly bitten his tongue off, and yet not only does he continue to talk but he spills the banks of English.
If you liked this movie, try these:
- True Grit (original)
- Dances with Wolves