True Grit is the latest film by the director/producer duo, Joel and Ethan Coen. Creators of such films as Fargo and Millers Crossing – True Grit is a distinctly Coen production with violence, black humour and peculiar characters.
As both Liam and Kyle attended the preview screening, we figured it would only be fitting to team up and collaborate on this review.
True Grit tells the story of a headstrong 14 year old girl named Mattie (Hailee Steinfeld), who takes it upon herself to hire a marshal and go after the man who killed her father. Something I didn’t know going into film is that not only was this based on a 1968 book by Charles Portis, but there was a 1969 film starring John Wayne that was pretty well acclaimed.
I did a bit of reading – not of the original book, mind, but of the internet and it seems that this recent film is closer to the original book. This makes sense, as the Coen Brothers made the choice to avoid watching the John Wayne film.
Spurred on by the pointless death of father over a petty argument (something which is only explained in the opening narration) our protagonist Mattie Ross is an amazing girl. Slinging her dad’s pistol in a flour sack, she barters with merchants with unerring eloquence and doesn’t hesitate when dealing with any adult who makes the mistake of underestimating her. Her headstrong charm is a big part of True Grit’s appeal. That and the man himself, described to have what people call ‘true grit,’ the hired gun: Rooster Cogburn played by Jeff Bridges.
Jeff Bridges, not quite the man of many faces but at the very least the man of many beards, charmingly mumbles his way through the film with a classic drunken cowboy swagger that while probably disgusting the women, makes us guys just want to pick up our six shooters and join him on an adventure in the old west.
Which is pretty much what you get; True Grit is violent and occasionally sombre but ultimately it’s a very classic western adventure.
Just a few days previously I had re-watched one of my favourite Coen Brothers films, No Country for Old Men and had it in my head that True Grit would resemble something like that edgy and bleak thriller.
I was surprised, not pleasantly but quite not disappointedly, to find that the film is actually a somewhat fun and often touching story about a girl who while proudly informing everyone she’s a young independent woman on the hunt for her father’s killer, is actually a lost child desperately in need of a supplementary father.
Whether that is in the grizzly, war trodden Cogburn or the handsome moustachioed LaBoeuf, as played by the always on form, Matt Damon. Two drastically different and conflicting men, who a brought together (time and again with violent results) by this girl who has a level of power over them they would never want to admit.
It’s funny Liam mentions the father figure issue as that’s not something I picked up on. But I will agree that while it is very occasionally sombre, most of the time it’s just a really fun film.
It becomes very easy to forget that hiking though Indian Territory after a gang of criminals in winter is actually a dangerous task. I don’t think the film explores any issues of revenge or fatherhood on a particularly deep level, but it is a very enjoyable film that explores the three protagonists rather well. They are each with distinct desires and backgrounds and there is a joy seeing a Texas Ranger, an amoral marshal and a mature young girl all butt heads.
There is a sense of a writer pulling the strings though. By that I mean so many events in the story turn around thanks to some eloquent wordplay, from bartering for horses to recruiting the marshal – almost every conflict is won or lost through words.
After the screening Liam mentioned the film motivated him to play Red Dead Redemption again, while personally this film reminded me of Fallout: New Vegas. Mattie is a min/max character with high charisma, low strength stats, skilled at speech checks and is on a quest to avenge her father. While LaBoeuf and Rooster are her companions and the briefly appearing but memorable Bearman is a potential side quest which is sadly unexplored.
My nerding out aside, this film is an enjoyable ride with some great black humour making an otherwise violent and uncaring wild west much more appealing. Even though there are more laughs than in most revenge films, you can still take the violence seriously. Thanks to some wonderful dynamics the sound of gunfire in this film made me jump every time. The only time when the film really makes an error that disturb the believability of this world is in the third act when the pace switches from a slow journey to a climax where a million things go wrong right after each other.
True Grit is a well-directed film, with an outstanding cast headlined by Hailee Steinfeld with an award worthy performance.
It’s only outstanding flaw is an ending that while not bad per se, is incredibly redundant and unoriginal. Especially since it’s one of the most seriously delivered parts of the film and of course being the end of the film it unfortunately left a lingering bad taste in my mouth.
Despite the flawed ending and going into it with quite skewed expectations, I thoroughly enjoy this film. The humorous encounters and characters mixed with the extreme landscape and serious plot made for an odd combination. This benefited the films straight entertainment value, while simultaneously preventing it from really delving deep into some of the more serious themes and ideas presented.
When it comes down to it however this film is not only good, it’s a damn good time; something that at this point is nearly guaranteed whenever a film opens with “A Coen Brothers Film”.