J. & C.'s Movie Reviews

Our Notes on Movies Made Public

True Grit (2010)

Posted by J on December 24, 2010

This is a Western where the women are tough and the men are tougher.  True Grit honors the time and place of post-Civil War Arkansas.    It takes on the spirit of the 1969 original and, assuming you prefer a degree of realism, trumps it.

The story is probably familiar.  A 14-year old woman, Mattie Cole, hires a U.S. Marshall to track down her father’s killer.  This Marshall is Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn, a man that other people say have “true grit.”  Mattie has to talk Cogburn into taking on the job, which is to bring the killer back to court, to be tried and executed under Arkansas law.  Cogburn agrees, but leaves Mattie behind as he heads into Choctaw country.  Bold, but also concerned about Rooster running off with her money, Mattie follows him.  The two are accompanied by LaBoeuf, a Texas Ranger, who doesn’t always get along with either Rooster or Mattie.

There is some gunplay here, of course, and an inevitable showdown.  But the most important feature for all the characters in the movie is their ability to talk.  Because the Coens wrote the movie in a high, mid-nineteenth century dialect, it’ll take a trained ear and a decent vocabulary to watch this movie.  I’ve seen elsewhere that other people have dubbed the movie’s dialogue as “Western Shakespeare,” which is an insult to Shakespeare and to the Coens.  Instead, of all the characters seem to be highly educated Mark Twain characters.  It is even a bit much; read Twain and you’ll see that different degrees of education and experience call for different ways of talking.  It’s a little frustrating that everyone in True Grit talks like the The King but not really anyone talks like Huck Finn. Yet this emphasis on talking is smart.  Tall tales were a primary feature of the Southwest and West, thanks to the locals’ ability to tell a good yarn.  Cogburn seems like not just a character from a tall tale, but someone who could make up one.

The characters talk well and use wit to improve their situations.  The movie’s opens with Mattie bargaining with a horse trader.  The next scene features Rooster testifying in court.  These are long scenes–slow ones to the modern moviegoer–but they establish the necessity in this world of speaking well and bargaining well.  This becomes useful when, late in the movie, Mattie tries to bargain with Ned Pepper.  The nice thing about the movie is that no one is out to harmfully deceive, ala the King and the Duke.  LaBoeuf is a bit of a braggart, but seems to believe what he’s saying about the honor of Texas Rangers.  There’s not a dishonorable character here, including the villains.

Unexpectedly, Mattie is the star.  In a movie with Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon, her character outshines them all.  You will wonder why there can’t be more young women like her today.  You will in fact long for the increased frequency of this type of woman.

Entertainment: 10

Intelligence: 8

Morality: 9

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One Response to “True Grit (2010)”

  1. […] True Grit — In my view, the best Western since Shane.  It also alters the genre a bit.  While most […]

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