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Movie Review: True Grit (2010)

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Truer to the original novel by Charles Portis than the 1969 movie version starring John Wayne, the new True Grit is a smaller film in scope. In the original movie directed by Henry Hathaway, the big western sky and dusty rolling horizon were a mighty backdrop to the simple story of a young girl on a quest to avenge the murder of her father. With aging, beloved John Wayne in the saddle, that film captured a sunny, big country shine as wide as Wayne’s ten gallon cowboy hat.

Directors Joel and Ethan Coen trust the big sky hangs overhead but are more concerned with the shadows cast by a small group of people traversing a vast and lonely Indian territory. The camera often sits at eye level as if an almighty presence looks over the shoulders of characters saying, “you’re on your own, partner.” The new country here is dark and cold guided by human endeavor to advance foreword. What brilliant light there is comes only from the aspirations of the characters.

In the film, fourteen year-old Mattie Ross (Hailee Seinfeld), arrives in town to claim the body of her murdered father and hire a gunslinger to kill the culprit, Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), who killed her dad. Wrangling and bargaining as if buying a cow, she chooses aging drunken Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), to track and bring Chaney to justice. Cogburn’s killing decree is legendary and he’ll do the deed for fifty bucks.

Or so he says. He swipes the fifty bucks, buys her a ticket home, leaves a goodbye note, and hightails it out of town on the trail of a bigger bounty reward. He forms a two-man posse with Texas Ranger La Boeuf (Matt Damon), also on the trail of Chaney for the killing of a Texas man.

But hold on, cowboys. The little lass has got bees in her britches and soon gallops up from behind to join the posse. In traditional western style, the three searchers head off into a bleak and snowy sunset in search of justice and reward.

And so goes True Grit, an allegorical western in which the search is a near desperate attempt to connect with humankind. Young Mattie will bargain her dying breath to avenge her father’s murder and the gunmen discover motivation beyond cash and dutiful reward.

Joel and Ethan Coen, masters of several dark and cynical films (Fargo, No Country For Old Men), have allowed this film to run free of their cutting edge input, leaving it embraced to the genre and original story. At times brutally violent, as you can expect from a modern western, it often becomes profoundly emotional with a heartening decency we haven’t seen from these directors before.

Jeff Bridges as one-eyed Rooster Cogburn is skillful at recreating a beloved western character so recognizable as belonging to John Wayne, (Wayne won his only Oscar for the role). With a steely-eyed smirk, drunken sensibility and rattlesnake reaction to gun play, this wilder and more introspective Rooster Cogburn shakes the boots off any preconceived cowboy.

Beyond the wonderful performances by the cast, it is the Coen Brothers grasp of Americana virtues and violence, and their presentation of story that makes this film memorable, and even haunting. I entertained a gulp in my throat as the movie rode into its final sunset.

About Guy De Federicis

  • M

    Saw this movie last night and think the review is pretty much right on. At the end as I filed out, I noticed a large number of people still sitting through the credits, and on their dimly stark lit faces was a resigned melancholy. They knew that phase of America was gone, and that such men would never live again. In my mind they were paying homage.

  • Guy D

    Thanks for the comment, M. I too sat through the credits, not wanting to disturb the melancholy I was experiencing.

  • Janet M

    I too sat through the credits! I saw the first True Grit! Both were great movies! I saw a young man w/ his Grandparents He had not seen the original! He was totally taken by this movie! Many young people don’t realize the hardships early Americans went through! What else could they remake? Does anyone remember Raw Hide! Rowdy Yates & Gill Favor! Yep! I’d go see a remake!!

  • Nita H

    I love the new westerns which give a truer look at the Old West. It is very sad that some of these American values have been squished by political correctness and the real men that created this country truly live no more. Very sad. I think parents need to take their kids to see how hard life was then and how easy they have it today.

  • Guy D

    Yes, the revisionist westerns are truer to history. Keep them doggies rolling!

  • kathy

    Loved it!

  • Eileen

    Please… if you make a remake, it should be as good if not better than original. True Grit actors fabulous, but film disappointing.

  • Mr. King

    Im 23, broke, on my own 7 states away from any family and about to graduate college. I stopped watching tv just over a year ago. Ever since I read Atlas Shrugged Ive been reading alot more. I stopped after work to get this movie and I loved it. Ive seen the old one and although i think Wayne captures more of the American Attitude, I thought Jeff Bridges was great; he really leaves you with a character of his own and the remnants of a hero, some one like Rand created, that is far off, but not unbelievable. Normally i dont like Matt Damon, after GWH and Bourne Identity i havent liked his acting. I thought he was great here, really captured the great role of Texas Ranger le B. The girl was outstanding, i could go on all day. I think i fell in love with her character. I like how modern movies are more down to earth and less peppy. However, i think its ironic our culture is the opposite. Down to earth but our political philosophy is ‘leave it alone’ and dont bring it up because youll be judged. The collective or group think has destroyed individuals and you can see it the old movies and now, even in the advertisements. Were kind of pussies now, ignorant and less charming.