True Grit, USA, 2010
Written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
Based on the novel ‘True Grit’ by Charles Portis
The Coens once again show their true talent in film craftsmanship. Not many filmmakers could have put together such a vivid and authentic western with its fair share of mythic violence and comedic randomness that feels all too true. The Coens have a propensity for novel faithfulness that attempted to make True Grit more of an original adaptation than a remake of the 1969 film starring John Wayne. The Coen’s True Grit is a film that is wonderfully crafted and beautifully acted. However, the epilogue bookends to this film attempt to give the film some deeper meaning — which it fails to reach.
The Story follows 14 year old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) and her pursuit of the man who murdered her father, Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin). While collecting her father’s body, Mattie attempts to hire a Deputy U.S. Marshal to track down Chaney. After searching through some candidates she chooses to hire Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) because of his merciless reputation. He repeatedly rebuffs her attempts to hire him, but eventually agrees due to her determination. While staying at a boarding house she also meets Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) who is also in pursuit of Chaney for the murder of a Texas Congress. LaBoeuf proposes to Mattie that they should team up with Cogburn, since the Marshal knows the Choctaw terrain where Chaney is hiding and LaBoeuf knows Chaney’s tendencies from tracking him over a few months. Mattie resists LaBoeuf’s offer just as Cogburn resists her request to join the hunt. Mattie insists that Chaney is put to jusctice for his crimes against her father, not the Texas Congressman. They parley for the time being.
As they hunt for Cheney, the trio begin to understand and respect one another after a contentious start. They finally pick up Chaney’s trail as part of ”Lucky” Ned Pepper’s (Barry Pepper) gang. After nearly catching Ned at a rendovou at one of his hideouts, Ned escapes and leaves their trail cold, but before the posse can disband Mattie accidently crosses Chaney’s path and is captured. This sets the stage for a final confrontation between Cogburn, LaBoeuf, and Ned’s gang in a classic western ending. The final chapter completes with the elder Mattie Ross (Elizabeth Marvel) searching for her old posse mates and remembering that time in her life.
The story hits on all classic western themes, the rule of law in lawlessness, courage, revenge, and the encroachment of modernization into the wilderness, but what makes this film special is not the classic western macro themes in this story — it is about characters and their struggle to find meaning to their lives. Mattie wants justice for her father, but she must decide if she can settle for justice or savage revenge. Cogburn deals with the same issues. Does he weld his gun for justice or does he simply kill those as judge, jury, and executioner? LaBoeuf sees himself as a heroic member of the Texas Rangers, but courage is something he has yet to prove to himself. All these characters are given the chance to find out.
Jeff Bridges and Haliee Steinfeld deliver memorable performances and it was nice to see Bridges be someone other than “the dude” for a change. His performance was one of the best I’ve seen in this genre and deserves the accolades bestowed, but it is Steinfeld that steals the film. Her performance as Mattie Ross is one of the most dynamic I’ve seen, and it shows her skills have come of age as an actress. She displays a maturity and intelligence well beyond her years, while at the same time showing youthful exuberance and a vulnerability you would expect from a young woman her age. Her character’s yearning for adventure reminds us why we love westerns and why we love great characters.
That is why when this film reaches its final ten or fifteen minutes, I was completely baffled. Everything is this film builds to a final conclusion where Cogbern and Mattie face what they have been searching for and come to a conclusion. However, instead of finishing these stories at the end, on the screen, we jump years into the future and follow a woman for the first time who is identified to be an elder Mattie. She searches for her old friends, but we never see them. There’s this lost empty feeling where she uses massive exposition to end the story, fading out with Mattie, less one arm, looking off into the horizon. I felt this ending was a distraction from the story we were being told. Why can we not finish their story? We go from possibly award winning performances to a strange place with a stranger telling, not showing us that we have come to the end. I can accept that there doesn’t have to be a happy ending, but what we get wasn’t an ending that fits this movie. Still, the first two and a half acts are better than most films out there and it is not to be missed!
Contact the author: JasonAHill@MoviesIDidntGet.com / www.moviesididntget.com