Columnist Frank Rich had an interesting take on True Grit in his New York Times column Sunday (Jan 22, 2011), comparing it to The Social Network, and arguing that True Grit depicts America as we wish it could be while The Social Network depicts (critically) the America that is (click on the excerpt below to go to the full article).
I wonder if the appeal of True Grit to a broad audience is also reflective of contemporary views of heroism, longing for a hero, perhaps, but skeptical. True Grit both mocks and celebrates its heroes. Cogburn is certainly a flawed hero, as well as being as much a comic character as a heroic one. LaBoeuf is a comic character throughout, but he nonetheless rises to the occasion, and despite his vanity, thin-skinnedness about the Texas Rangers, and cow-licked hair, he makes the astounding shot that fells Ned Peppers.
From “The One-Eyed Man is King” (by Frank Rich):
But what leaps out this time, to the point of seeming fresh, is the fierce loyalty of the principal characters to each other (the third being a vain Texas Ranger, played by Matt Damon) and their clear-cut sense of morality and justice, even when the justice is rough. More than the first “True Grit,” the new one emphasizes Mattie’s precocious, almost obsessive preoccupation with the law. She is forever citing law-book principles, invoking lawyers and affidavits, and threatening to go to court. “You must pay for everything in this world one way or another,” says Mattie. “There is nothing free except the grace of God.”
That kind of legal and moral cost-accounting seems as distant as a tintype now. The new “True Grit” lands in an America that’s still not recovered from a crash where many of the reckless perpetrators of economic mayhem deflected any accountability and merely moved on to the next bubble, gamble or ethically dubious backroom deal. When Americans think of the law these days, they often think of a system that can easily be gamed by the rich and the powerful, starting with those who pillaged Lehman Brothers, A.I.G. and Citigroup and left taxpayers, shareholders and pensioners in the dust. A virtuous soul like Mattie would be crushed in a contemporary gold rush even if (or especially if) she fought back with the kind of civil action so prized by the 19th-century Mattie.
Talk about Two Americas. Look at “The Social Network” again after seeing “True Grit,” and you’ll see two different civilizations, as far removed from each other in ethos as Silicon Valley and Monument Valley. While “Social Network” fictionalizes Mark Zuckerberg, it mines the truth of an era — from the ability of the powerful and privileged to manipulate the system to the collapse of loyalty as a prized American virtue at the top of that economic pyramid.