True Grit: A Timeless Movie for Western Lovers

Rifle & bullets

The annual Western Legends Roundup begins tomorrow in Kanab, Utah, so in honor of that popular and nostalgic celebration of the Old West, let me recommend to you a recent western movie that will never get old for me.

So, everyone saw the original True Grit, right? The one starring John, yeah, you know who I mean. I don’t mind dating myself by saying that I saw it in the theater, and I have loved it ever since. It’s a classic. It’s impossible to write about the 2010 True Grit without mentioning the 1969 version. And I’ve just done so. Okay, now let’s move on.

If someone had asked you who you thought would make a western movie nowadays, would you have guessed Joel and Ethan Coen?  They surprised everyone by stepping out of their quirky niche, but they definitely prove their versatile artistic abilities with this production.  Make no mistake though; they have a brilliant story to work with.  Charles Portis’ 1968 novel was rife with brilliantly fleshed-out characters and riveting dialogue.  They translated it well to the screen, as if westerns were their specialty.

The film tells the story of 14-year-old straight-arrow religious Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) of Yell County, Arkansas, whose father was shot down by his hired man Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), a no-good drifter.  Mattie travels to Fort Smith to enlist the help of the meanest federal marshal around, someone she’s heard possesses true grit.  Enter Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), a hard-drinking, fearless lawman with his own history of lawlessness, who dispenses justice readily at the point of a gun.  The phrase of ‘true grit’ applies to Mattie as much as to Rooster.  How a young girl manages to ‘hoorah’ a crusty, old cuss like Rooster is the core of the movie.  And newcomer Hailee Steinfeld seized the opportunity to own this story.  This was indeed her film—she is the narrator; the story is told from her point of view.  Because of this it was important to find just the right actress.  I saw a few out of the several thousand audition tapes, and it was obviously a tedious task to find a girl of a young age who would have any understanding or feel for the culture of the 19th century American West, a place quite foreign to today’s teenagers.  Steinfeld grabbed onto the role with the gusto of her character.  When Mattie awakens in her boarding house room to the site of a Texas Ranger sitting across from her, you know that her moral sensibilities are greatly disturbed, but she instead instantly takes command of the situation.  She minces no words.  No one who sees the movie will easily forget her.  

Antique store picture & bottles

Bridges is absolutely fun to watch as he mumbles and staggers his way through his role as Rooster, utterly unrecognizable as the movie star he is.  The Texas Ranger La Boeuf (Matt Damon) is the most changed from the original movie.  He’s amusingly arrogant but can’t be counted on even as much as Rooster.  Although their goals are the same, he clashes often with Rooster, but he’s likeable.

Carter Burwell’s musical score relies almost 100 percent on the pure, old sounds of Protestant hymns, a brilliant turn that subtly draws the viewer towards Mattie’s character.  With his seeming never-ending supply of renditions of the hymns, they are never repetitious or boring. 

Oscar recognized this film as one of its 10 best picture nominees, but for me, it was THE best picture of 2010.

Red Cliffs Lodge Movie Museum

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