When Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) loses her father to a senseless gunfight, she steps up to take care of the arrangements for his body and to take vengeance on his murderer, Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin). This girl is only fourteen, but with her father gone, she assumes the role as man of the house, and with damn true grit. She can handle herself, sleeping in the same room as the corpses at the undertaker, and she can handle the men who underestimate her, bargaining like a pro until she gets what she deserves. To track down Chaney, Mattie hires one-eyed Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), who is reputed to be the toughest U.S. Marshall around. With his drinking and unruly behavior, Rooster wants to do the job alone, but stubborn Mattie insists on going with him out to the wild Indian territory. Along the way, Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) joins the hunt for Chaney and the three are tested to the edge of their grit.
Something I really noticed was the use of proper dialogue throughout the film. It can be jarring at first, but feels like a Coen trademark. Many times they have different dialects or speech patterns in their films (the strong Minnesota accent in Fargo, southern dialects in Oh Brother Where Art Thou?). As I sat in the theater, I contemplated this idea of speech patterns, but realized that this proper speech was just making me listen more intently to the dialogue. Perhaps that’s the purpose behind the types of speech, to perk our ears up. That is so clever and simple.
I have yet to see the original True Grit, but according to my husband’s grandfather, this 2.0 version is much better. He left the theater just beaming about the film, saying it was the best movie he had seen all year. I’ve also heard from him and other sources that Bridges’ Rooster and Steinfeld’s Mattie are not taken at all from John Wayne or Kim Darby, but made their own darker characters closer to the book. I seriously doubt Bridges would be competing for Best Actor right now if he had let a Wayne impression slip in occasionally.
The western has felt like a by-gone genera that was made for us to watch as little kids with our grandparents, but this seems to be the first great western for the twenty-first century. The Coen brothers have resurrected the western from its old cowboys and Indians days into a darker, meatier film that can stand among today’s topics. With some Coen deadpan laughs, classic western cinematography, a little blood and make little Mattie the toughest of the grit trio, you have got an amazing film. Besides, who would have imagined sticking bad-ass Rooster Cogburn next to geeky Zuckerberg?
“If you would like to sleep in a coffin, it would be all right.”
If The Academy is looking to award the best resurrection of a by-gone genera, the Oscar for Best Picture will go to True Grit.