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True Grit (2010)

"Before viewing" talks don't have spoilers, but since there's no "After viewing" talk for this one, comments may have spoilers. More»» by Randy Heffner

Is the film worth your time?

In True Grit, the Coen brothers have created an engaging portrayal with themes of honor and expedience, justice and revenge, age and experience, and, well, okay I’ll say it: grit and determination. I’ll leave to others comparisons with the 1969 John Wayne version and simply address the Coens’ film on its own.

The center of the film is 14-year old spitfire named Mattie Ross. One might ask if it’s realistic that a girl so young could be so smart and strong, to which I say one such 14-year old is all that’s needed to make this story, and I can believe that there’s at least one in the world. Even if not, I’d be comfortable treating the film as a “what if” scenario that poses and explores a range of questions about who we need to be. A few that True Grit brings out include: How much do we really prepare ourselves to be smart and savvy? Are we street smart enough to know what resources and negotiating position we have? Where is the line between honor and revenge? Between recklessness and bravery? Between courage and foolishness? Between selfishness and one’s due? How far will we go, how much will we endure to do the right thing?

True Grit establishes a thematic backdrop of justice via an opening quote from Proverbs, religious references laced throughout, and its score, which is dominated by hymns whose melodies are often slowly enough played that you might not recognize them. Yet the particular hymn and verse choices also provide a wry sense that confidence in one’s own course of action might be prematurely justified on a religious basis. Thus, the religious elements in True Grit aren’t preaching — it takes some degree of thought to figure how the hymns and the Proverbs quote interact with the film’s content.

As usual, the Coens’ filmcraft is superb. True Grit is one of their most accessible films, though it also retains enough of the Coenesque for Coen fans. The lead performances, really all the performances, are strong. Hailee Steinfeld deserves special note for excellent acting in her first big screen role. The score is eerie, beautiful, and strong, and the bit of enigma in its religious elements adds to the film’s question richness. The dialog is precise, economical, well-paced, and laced with deadpan humor (it works, even in the darkness of the story). Impeccable grammar dominates the film, which may take some getting used to, but it adds an air of honorable formality that lends the film a bit of mythical, if not Shakespearean, force. True Grit is definitely worth the time, though if you’re squeamish about gore, bring someone with you who has seen it and can tell you at the right time when to close your eyes for 15 seconds.

Mattie Ross is 14 and smart as a whip. Tom Chaney killed her father, and she’s in town to collect her father’s body, settle his affairs, and avenge his death. To hunt down Chaney, she enlists the meanest U.S. marshal around: Rooster Cogburn. As he heads into Indian territory in pursuit, Cogburn tries to leave young Mattie behind, but she changes his mind with her strong-willed determination. A straight-up and proud Texas Ranger named LeBoeuf joins them — he is also looking for Chaney — creating an unusual manhunt trio with, shall we say, challenged interpersonal dynamics. Running time: 110 min.

There is a notable amount of gunplay and fighting, some of which is graphic, at close range, and gory. A small amount of language, some strong. One of the main characters often drinks heavily.

  • Director: Ethan Coen and Joel Coen
  • Screenplay: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, based on novel by Charles Portis
  • Leads: Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld, Matt Damon
  • Cinematography: Carter Burwell
  • Music: Roger Deakins

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