Rating: 5 stars out of 5
True Grit begins with our young heroine Mattie’s (Hailee Steinfeld, a remarkable discovery) assured voice, “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. But it did not seem so strange then, although I will say it did not happen every day.”
Many similarly, did not give credence that Joel and Ethan Coen would go out and make a straight Western. Well, what was No Country For Old Men then, if not a Western set in modern times? But nonetheless after this film, it does not seem that implausible after all, although I will say it does not happen every day.
The decorated writer-directors of Fargo and A Serious Man have set out to make a novel adaptation of a novel and in doing so have enlisted the services of their The Big Lebowski frontman, The Dude himself, Jeff Bridges (playing one-eyed US Marshal “Rooster” Cogburn). This version of True Grit stays truer to Charles Portis’ book than John Wayne’s ever did.
The 1969 adaptation was fun but filtered; it changed too many things about Portis’ work (Hailee was played by Kim Darby, 21 at the time) that made it great. The Coens here have treated its source material with an almost reverential respect. The characterisation and tone present is wonderfully crafted, owing equally to both Portis’ prose and the Coens’ cinematic vision.
Most of the funniest or cleverest lines come verbatim from the book itself, including that abovementioned opening stanza. Portis’ twisty language comes into use often and imbues the film with linguistic foreplay that immediately catches and holds your attention. The Coens too throw in a few acerbic barbs of their own, evoking Deadwood-esque dialogue with their own brand of wit.
Steinfeld delivers her lines with a composure and intelligence that is startling for a young girl. It’s that composure and intelligence that take many gruff, surly men from the Old West by surprise and knocks them down a peg or two. Mattie is firm, wily and not to be trifled with. Though she seeks a man with “true grit” to help her capture her father’s murderer, Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), it is this little girl who really embodies that title.
She enlists the drunken, shoot-first-take-no-prisoners Rooster, in her quest for vengeance that will take her into violent Indian Territory in harsh conditions in pursuit of vengeance. Along the way they are joined by verbose Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (pronounced hilariously as La-Beef and played by Matt Damon) who is tracking Chaney as well, for a sizeable bounty due to the unrelated murder of a Texas senator.
All three hardly get along but circumstances put them on the same path, a road that leads to common goals and shared respect, whether they like or not. Prior to the third act, Mattie and LaBoeuf have a tender farewell scene that is so brilliantly set-up and acted that no viewing eyeball could possibly remain dry.
It’s those kinds of hard-won moments that exemplifies Mattie’s tenuous bond with Rooster too. A climatic act of exhaustive heroism by the aged lawman to save Mattie is a grand bravura send-off for both grizzled Cogburn and strangely enough, Mattie’s steadfast horse named Little Blackie.
True Grit is a straight Western in the grand tradition of adventure and revenge but it is told with buckets of wry humour. There’s a uniquely Coen cynicism blended in with this tale of good and evil - in that it revels in the murky grey areas, but only to make those rare, contrasting occasions of nobility and courage all the more breathtaking.
The movie opens with a quote from Proverbs 28:1, “The wicked flee when none pursueth.” The second line of that Proverb is implied, “But the righteous are bold as a lion.” That’s exactly what Mattie and her cohorts are – bold as lions.
About Hidzir Junaini
Hidzir Junaini is 24-years-old and a wealthy playboy billionaire by day and a caped crusader by night. Only one of those is true. He’s actually a freelance writer, blogger, full-time film buff and some-time socially awkward nerd. He also writes about music, restaurants and nightlife for MetroWize Asia.
Hidzir was the winner of the inaugural inSing Movie Lover contest that garnered over 1,000 participants. The Movie Lover contest is a search for a candidate who possesses outstanding passion for movies and a talent for writing engaging movie reviews.