Have you ever noticed that some of the goofiest people can create some of the most serious art? As though finding the humor in life has also helped them hone their skills when it comes to pointing out life’s injustices and cruelties? I think Joel and Ethan Coen have proven that they are beyond talented when it comes to visual storytelling – be it Big Lebowski, Burn After Reading, No Country For Old Men, or True Grit, they have matured from cult filmmakers of weird movies to creators of new classics.
True Grit is so well put together. For those of you that don’t know, the story is told by Mattie Ross, a 14 year old girl who has set out to find her father’s killer. Her father was shot down hired hand Tom Chaney who then fled, leaving the jurisdiction of the small town and going from the local to the federal “Wanted” list. But Mattie knows that this means no only could he escape justice for all his crimes, he would defintely escape justice from the one crime she cares about. Mattie wants him dead, and she wants to shoot him. So instead of waiting around for the law to catch him, she hires a man she is told has “true grit” and can get the job done – Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges). She meets a Texas Ranger (Matt Damon) also looking for Chaney, but she dislikes him from the start and refuses his help.
The movie is fantastic all around. Hailee Steinfeld, who pays Mattie, is amazing. Perhaps it’s because she actually is 13 years old…or maybe it’s because she hasn’t had braces yet so the adorable little gap is still visible in her teeth…or maybe it’s that her eyebrows are just a little bushy, like any kid’s would be. But she felt very real in her acting. You like Mattie right from the start, even if she is head-strong. She is her father’s daughter and she arrives in town to collect his corpse with only the thought of revenge on her mind. You’re not really sure if you want to root for her, to encourage this behavior, but it’s hard not to want to follow where she goes. And the Coen’s were careful in their writing of the script – we follow only Mattie and see only what she does. It let’s us have little surprises along the way and perhaps helps the audience believe in her innocence a bit more.
Bridges and Damon are great on screen together. I really don’t want to say too much about it. I felt myself mesmerized the entire film, it had great moments of action, suspense, and even a bit of humor. I had never read the book or seen the original movie so I had no idea what to expect. The movie was not overly graphic (and they had their chances). It was intense but never obscene. I’m not saying you should show it to your 9 year old, but I think a family with teenage kids could all sit together and enjoy the 2 hours of storytelling. Mattie is a great heroine in her own right and this feels like the kind of movie that if it’s on TV and I flip by, I’ll stop and watch it.
I hope it takes home a few Oscars.