E: I’m not a fan of Westerns. And I can really take or leave the Coen brothers. O Brother Where Art Thou? More, please. No Country For Old Men? Now that lefts a sour taste in my mouth. I don’t think I’ve ever seen famous original True Grit. And I’ve never read the Charles Portis novel on which both versions are based.
But damn it if I didn’t absolutely love this movie.
And you know why, don’t you? Mattie Ross is a heroine for the ages. Mattie Ross, the young teen who sets out to avenge her father’s murder, is serious, upright and feisty. She’s smart, brave, and a fearless negotiator. Heck, I just like the way she says her name. As Arthur Abbot of The Holiday would put it, she’s got gumption.
As she tells us herself during the opening narration, Mattie Ross has traveled to recover her father’s body. Dad was a hero who tried to stop his hired man Tom Chaney from fighting and was killed for his troubles. Unbeknownst to her mother and younger siblings, Mattie intends to send her father’s body back home with the servant who accompanied her to claim the body, and find herself a Marshall who could be paid to hunt the hired man down and bring him to justice.
Most of this I knew before I saw the first moments of this film. But I was unprepared for the way the story engrossed me, and more, by the way Mattie’s struggle fascinated me. The film is a rollicking adventure, populated by strange characters, none more so than Rooster Cogburn, the gruff one eyed Marshall Mattie puts under contract because he’s got “true grit.” The two are joined by Le Beouf (pronounced “Le Beef”), a Texas Marshall who’s been ineffectually pursuing Chaney across the West. Both men are shocked to find that Mattie intends to come with them. Mattie is outraged that they would expect she’d stay home. The men are shocked again to find Mattie brave, competent, stalwart and composed even in a devilish fix. This girl is as upright as her posture, and as true of purpose as the painfully, perfectly straight part in her hair.
The film is nominated for 10 Oscars, and it richly deserves them all. I’ve howled before, so I won’t overstate the case here, about how plain ridiculous it is that Hailee Steinfeld was put in the supporting category. It’s really as absurd as absurd can be. I would love to hear someone argue that she’s in a supporting role using the context of the story, rather than her age and her lack of fame, to defend it. Give that, I’m over the moon to see the girl nominated. I think she’s a stupendous talent, and hope she has a long career to come. And you can’t forget, supporting actress is historically the category of surprise, of Marisa Tomei and Anna Paquin. No, it’s not likely (Melissa Leo is the favorite), but it could totally happen. Heck, Leo wasn’t even nominated for the BAFTA, which went to Helena Bonham Carter as part of The King’s Speech‘s total sweep, so clearly she’s not a lock. It could happen. Dave Karger thinks it will. On the other hand, Dave Karger thought she was going to get a lead nomination. (BAFTA did give Hailee a lead nomination – those Brits, I love them – so it doesn’t give us an indication of her potential to surprise in supporting actress.
Jeff Bridges, on the other hand, will not repeat. There’s no chance there. Squinty, one eyed Rooster grunts and growls and slouches across the screen. He’s really enjoyable. Matt Damon does fine work here without Oscar recognition; all traces of the well known movie star are gone.
Of the 10 nominations, the film’s best hope is likely to be in Roger Deakins’ cinematography, but even there it’s possible it could fall short. In fact, it’s easy to imagine that with all these nominations the film could come up totally dry. From my perspective, however, it hardly matters. The film is a beautifully made adventure, a rollicking tale populated with vivid characters and exciting action. It’s also the biggest box office success of the Coen brothers careers. It’s mild on the quirky, and high on the edge of your seat excitement. It’s a ride well worth taking.