If You Would Like to Sleep in a Coffin, it Would be Alright
Today’s movie was a request by me. For a while now I’ve talked about Jeff Bridges and how, though I respect him greatly as an actor, the greater majority of the movies I’ve reviewed with him in it seemed very similar in their performances, often resembling his character of The Dude from the Big Lebowski. But, while I’ve said these things, I’ve usually mentioned them along with a certain movie I’ve seen where his performance had little to nothing in common with The Dude, and that is today’s movie. It’s also a movie that I believe I originally saw in the theaters and fell completely in love with. When it came out for purchase, I got it on BluRay and renewed my love for it. I’ve been putting off my review for no particular reason, but no longer. The time has come to review the second film adaptation of the novel True Grit, written by Charles Portis, written for the screen and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, and starring Hailee Steinfeld, Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper, Elizabeth Marvel, Ed Lee Corbin, Dakin Matthews, Domhnall Gleeson, Leon Russom, and Joe Stevens.
The father of 14-year-old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) is gunned down by one of his hired hands, Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), for two California gold chips and a horse. Her brother being even younger and her mother being unqualified for the task, it falls on Mattie’s shoulders to arrange for the body to be transported back home. But, when she gets to the town, she sets about the task of revenge. Realizing that it’s not a top priority for the law to find Chaney, she decides to hire U.S. Marshal Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to seek him out. He refuses her at first, but when she raises enough money, he relents, even though she demands to accompany him on the task. But, when Mattie shows up to join Rooster, she finds that he’s already left, having had no intention of allowing her to follow. She races down to the river to find Rooster on the other side of the river with Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), who is looking for Chaney on another bounty. Since Rooster has paid the ferryman to keep Mattie on the other side of the river, she hazards the river on horseback to join them. Rooster and LaBoeuf are not pleased, but the three set off to find Chaney and bring him to justice.
This is such a good movie! I love the hell right out of this movie. It’s set itself amongst my favorite westerns, and even amongst my favorite movies. Though I’m not sure where it came from, I’ve had a predisposition for loving westerns for as long as I can remember. So when a really well-written one comes along (which I find fairly rare nowadays), I love it that much more. And this movie is, indeed, well-written. The story is really interesting, often funny, and heavy with some badassdom or, as they would call it, “grit”. And, in my opinion, the movie dwarfs the original movie in every conceivable way. I liked this version of True Grit so much that I decided I should buy the original, sight unseen. You can imagine my disappointment. The original seemed to have very little respect for the source material (as best I can gather from the source material’s Wikipedia page) and changed parts of the story with great emotional impact at will. But it seems like this Portis guy knew what he was doing when he put pen to paper, because the much more accurate new movie renders the original movie unwatchable. The dialogue that the Coen brothers bring to the movie is very endearing, though I did find it to be in poor taste that Mattie decides to name her horse “Little Blackie” right in front of the little blackie stable boy, but perhaps that’s just my racism reading things the wrong way. The action that they bring to the movie is also very satisfying, and pretty great in a very real way. They build up a lot of tension in the interrogation scene when Rooster is casually trying to get information out of two guys they come across in a cabin, and the ensuing gun fight was pretty cool and very realistic. I really liked the courageous ride that Rooster takes against the gang at the end of the movie as well, especially the part where a guy gets shot off his horse and smashes his face on a rock for good measure. I have conflicted feelings about the ending of the movie though. ::SPOILER ALERT:: I thought the part of Rooster courageously riding to get Mattie to medical attention was very emotional and fantastic, but the bit after that confuses my feelings. It was sad that an aged Mattie was trying to reconnect with Rooster but finds him dead by the time she gets to him. It was nice that she gets his body moved closer to her so she can visit him, but sad again that she lost her arm and never married because she was too business minded. I thought the ending was great, but a part of me always wants the ending to be a happy one, and you don’t get that here. The original movie breaks from the book to give the audience the happy ending they usually want, but I don’t like that they did that. So you can see how conflicted I am about this. I don’t like them changing the ending to appease me, and the ending was fantastic and emotional, but that nagging part of me always wants that happy ending. ::END SPOILERS::
Contending admirably with the high quality of the script is the performances in the movie. Every single one of them is enjoyable. Hailee Steinfeld is the real breakout performance of this movie, even amongst heavy competition. No one has seen anything from this girl before this movie which just makes her that much more impressive. She delivers heavy and complicated dialogue as if she’s smarter than everyone in the room, and in most occasions she is. Take, for instance, when she’s negotiating over the sale of some horses with Colonel Stonehill (Dakin Matthews) and she completely outwits him. She also delivers some real emotion to further impress. And she was not above showing the innocence of youth, like when she tried to break the tension caused by a fight between LaBoeuf and Rooster by offering to tell a story by the campfire. I envy her for her early showings of talent, but I assume I was not given such ability because of how heavily I would rub it in the faces of all of my peers at school. “Look what I’ve accomplished while you guys were doing each other’s hair and talking about Justin Bieber! I was nominated for an Academy Award!” Although, for some reason she was nominated for supporting actress. What’s that about? As awesome as Bridges was in this movie, this wasn’t the Rooster show. Mattie was the main character of the movie. And Jeff Bridges was indeed awesome. John Wayne fans must be pissed ‘cause this guy makes the Duke look like a pile of duke. He plays Rooster very funny, intelligent even though he’s semi-constantly drunk, absolutely heroic in a part or two but still very flawed in others, and outright awesome. My favorite thing about the character was that he wasn’t a cliché. Most heroes in western movies are the best at something. They’re the best tracker, they’re the toughest, they’re the most heroic, they’re the best shot or the quickest draw. Rooster was none of these things. He just had grit, and he was more awesome for it. Matt Damon was also very good as LaBoeuf. You dislike him for the bulk of the movie because of his ego and the vague air of pedophilia he gives off in relation to Mattie. In the middle, he’s more of an amusement because of his nearly severed tongue. But, by the end, he’s also a very heroic character. Josh Brolin is also pretty great. He’s this sinister character throughout the movie, but only in what people are saying about him because you haven’t actually met him yet. When you meet him, he comes off as an idiot and in no way intimidating. He’s almost laughable in how put upon he is. But when he decides it’s in his best interest to rid himself of Mattie, he makes an awesome turn from almost goofy to pretty intimidating.
True Grit is an amazing accomplishment of a movie. Fantastic story, sharp dialogue, and some amazing performances. This movie has all of the ingredients to be considered one of the greatest westerns ever, and it’s already become one of my favorite movies ever. And the original that was already regarded as a classic becomes a mess in comparison. I don’t only recommend you watch this movie; I want you to watch this movie. It’s not only worth a rental; it’s worth going out and purchasing it outright. Go find it and watch it. You can thank me later. True Grit gets “Well, if it ain’t loaded and cocked, it don’t shoot” out of “If them men wanted a decent burial, they should have gotten themselves kilt in summer.”
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