I just got back from watching the Coen Brother’s True Grit, which is a great deal of fun, and, in a strange way, even a kind of “holiday” movie, with its scenes of snowy weather and fat men with impressive beards (not many red suits or ho-ho-hos though). It even has a special holiday message. As Rooster Cogburn comments, “If a man wants a decent burial, he oughtn’t get himself killed in the winter.” Sure, not your usual seasonal greeting, but a good point, and one that is effectively driven home by the image of several corpses propped up against a wall, as snow falls on the bodies and on the ground that is too frozen to dig. Part of the dark humor of the film, it seems to me, is in thinking about it as commenting on its own Christmas time release date by combining such holiday staples as gently falling snow with scenes of violent death.
Somewhat surprisingly to me, True Grit (2010) corresponds fairly closely with the John Wayne True Grit, at least in terms of plot events and other incidents. Although the new TG is pointedly not a remake of the earlier film, the similarities suggest how closely both scripts follow the original novel. One of the key differences is that TG 2010 follows the novel in adapting a framing device of having the older Mattie Ross narrate the film’s events via an opening and closing voiceover. And the final scene shows us Mattie 25 years later, one arm amputated (Mattie in TG 1969 survives a rattlesnake bite with no loss of limb), and arriving too late to see Rooster Cogburn one more time.
The new TG is also faster paced, funnier, and better acted than the earlier film. Replacing Glen Campbell with Matt Damon as LaBoeuf is in itself enough to ensure a better job of acting, and both Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn and Hallie Steinfeld as Mattie Ross are terrific. Mattie is a wonderful character, and if her major characteristics in TG 1969 were her strong will, intelligence, and quick tongue, she retains those qualities in the TG 2010 and is allowed to go further in terms of the film’s action. Her foiling of the ferryman at the river crossing is more effectively realized (she bops him in the head with an apple and makes her escape), and her crossing of the river on the back of Little Blackie is more spectacular than in the earlier film. Also, whereas LaBoeuf is the one who blocks the chimney of the cabin in the earlier film, here Mattie takes part directly in the action by climbing on to the cabin roof to block the smoke. The only real complaint I have about the movie is that Steinfeld’s name is listed so far down in the credits, after both Josh Brolin and Ned Pepper (neither of whom have much more than five minutes of screen time).
I would love to hear what other people thought about the film.