True Grit – 2010
This was a really good movie that had a pretty fantastic cast. It had drama, it had action, and it had heart. What more could we ask for? Well, it had some pretty awesome direction by the incomparable Coen brothers, a great score by Carter Burwell, and some top notch cinematography by Roger Deakins.
It was a remake of the 1969 film starring John Wayne. But this time around, the aging Deputy U.S. Marshall, Rooster Cogburn was played by Jeff Bridges. The film’s main protagonist was a fourteen year old girl named Mattie Ross, played by Hailee Steinfeld. The film also had a couple of other famous stars like Matt Damon, playing Texas Ranger LaBoeuf, Josh Brolin as the scuzzy murderer, Tom Chaney, and Barry Pepper playing the ruthless outlaw, Lucky Pepper.
When most people think of this remake, they think of Jeff Bridges, and while I don’t want to diminish his great performance, I have to say that the main driving force behind the movie was Steinfeld. The character of Mattie was played with such confidence and maturity, I couldn’t help but be impressed with the young actress. She handled the part with attitude and bravery. Mattie was a smart little spitfire. The whole thrust of the plot is Mattie as she goes on a quest to find the man who murdered her father and bring him to justice. To do this, she hires Rooster Cogburn, the Marshall who was known for always getting his man.
Then again, it is hard to go wrong with Bridges. He created a character who was not always likeable, but was always believable. True, Rooster was a self-satisfied drunk of a man, but when it came down to brass tacks, he knew what he was doing. He was, after all, the hero, if not the protagonist. And he developed a certain amount of fatherly feelings toward the brave young Mattie, despite himself. In the end, he cared enough about her to not only fight Lucky Pepper, but to save her life after she was bitten by a poisonous snake. He was also the character that spawned the film’s name. He had true grit, though in truth, I think it could just as easily have been the character of Mattie who was the real reason behind the title.
I also have to give a shout out to a pretty great performance from Matt Damon. When he first showed up on the screen, he was in shadow, and it was almost difficult to recognize the famous actor. In fact, he really reminded me of Robert Redford in the 1969 Best Picture nominee, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. And much like Redford, he was sometimes a scene-stealer. He was very handsome and the character of LaBoeuf had an air of nobility about him that Damon portrayed perfectly. And he had a great character arc throughout the film. At first he sees Mattie as nothing more than a little girl. But by the end, he comes to respect her and joins forces with Cogburn to take down Lucky Pepper.
But, of course, it was Mattie, herself who took out the evil Tom Chaney. He was just so sleazy and pathetic, and Brolin was really on top of his game, which is saying a lot. He was just so despicable, and even though he had very little screen-time, the character he created was very memorable. Well done, Josh!
Now, another aspect of the film that caught my attention was the language. The Coen brothers seem to have a habit of using language as a tool to create a certain feel. In this case, they tended to stay away from contractions, making everything sound a little stilted and ostentatiously proper. This made a lot of sense for the young Mattie who was trying to be more adult than her years allowed. But it carried over into all the rest of the characters. When Rooster and LaBeouf were arguing, Rooster said, “This is like women talking.” LaBeouf replied, “Yes, that is the way! Make me out foolish in this girl’s eyes!” Rooster then said, “I think she has got you pretty well figured.” All that, instead of, “Yes, that’s the way,” and “I think she’s got you pretty well figured.” I would think the film, being a western, would lend itself to those simple contractions and maybe even a good ol’ Texas drawl. It seems like it would be more appropriate for the genre. But the strange use of language actually worked because it was consistent across the board.
So, why did the Coen brothers feel that the classic John Wayne film needed to be remade? Because the movie they made was a truer adaptation of the original novel by Charles Portis. But just as an interesting note, there were three major differences in the end of the 1969 version and the 2010 adaptation. In the 1969 film, after saving Rooster and Mattie from the snake pit, LaBeouf dies from his head wound. Second, in the earlier movie, Chaney is captured and brought to trial instead of being shot and killed by Mattie. And third, in the John Wayne version, Mattie does not lose an arm to the snake bite. Instead, she completely recovers from her injuries. I like the Coen brother’s interpretation better.