"You must pay for everything in this world, one way and another. There is nothing free except the grace of God."
We went to see True Grit last Saturday. It is a terrific movie. The Coen brothers have done a masterful job of telling the story this time from Mattie's point of view.
With a tip of the hat to Night of the Hunter (the music), Jeremiah Johnson (the mountain man/bear man/doctor) and To Kill a Mockingbird (the narration told by the young girl now all grown up and looking back as well as a music cue), and My Darling Clementine (the introduction of LaBoeuf), this movie soars.
Richard Deakins cinematography should finally win him an Oscar. This west is not pretty, it's a hard life and the terrain matches that hard life.
'What are you doin' here?' Tom Chaney to Mattie Ross when the meet again.
Josh Brolin plays Tom Chaney as an outlaw who is also dumber than a bag of rocks at yet incredibly menacing and he is really good in the role.
'I call that bold talk for a one-eyed fat man! ' Lucky Ned Pepper to Reuben Cogburn.
Barry Pepper as Lucky Ned Pepper is charming yet lethal in a way that makes you forget Robert Duvall's turn. Which is no easy feat.
'We have no rodeo clowns in Yell County.' Mattie Ross to LaBoeuf on their first meeting.
Matt Damon proves yet again what great range he has an actor. He has starred in many dfferent genres and now a western. Glen Campbell is forever banished in my mind as this character.
'It astonishes me that Mr. LaBoeuf has been shot, trampled, and nearly bitten his tongue off, and yet not only does he continue to talk but he spills the banks of English.' Reuben Cogburn to Mattie Ross.
Jeff Bridges grows into this role. He shows us a very different character than the one John Wayne created. This Cogburn is deadly serious about what he does for a living and deadly serious about staying alive. He won the Oscar last year for Crazy Heart and he stands a snow ball's chance of winning this Sunday but this is the role I wish he could have won the Oscar for. And I say that as a life-long John Wayne fan.
One of the things that struck me the hardest and the quickest, is that Bridges was determined to make this role his own and not try to out-Wayne our memories of the Duke. This Reuben Cogburn is a very different animal than the one etched forty years ago.
As his respect for Mattie's tenaciousness grows, Bridges' Cogburn begins to grow as he tries to become the man she needs him to be while not giving ground on the man he is (which is more a killer than a man with the necessary true grit to capture Tom Chaney). It's a wonderful role for Bridges and it could have been played for laughs, for camp but by going back to the novel and the character that Portis first created, the Coen brothers and Bridges have created a character that can stand next to Wayne's characterization and not in the shadows.
The other thing I liked about Bridges' take on Reuben Cogburn (and I suspect it is in the novel as well), is that he knows he is a man of violence and for whom violence is almost always the first choice (it has helped him live as long as he has in his line of work). He may try to tamp that violence down when around Mattie but he is always aware that it lurks just below the surface.
And like Tom Doniphon in Liberty Valance, this Reuben Cogburn drinks to forget the killings he has done. This Reuben Cogburn drinks because it is the only way he knows how to deal with all the killing and when he is drinking, it keeps the violent streak inside him at bay, mostly.
'I do not care a thing about guns, if I did, I would have one that worked. ' Mattie Ross to Lucky Ned Pepper.
Hallie Steinfeld is the true discovery of this film. Finally, the story has a worthy Mattie (no offense to Kim Darby fans) and Ms. Steinfeld gives it her all. We watch her grow and learn a thing or three about life and growing up. Her friendship with Reuben Cogburn feels absolutely genuine as does her uneasy friendship with LaBoeuf.
She is smart as a whip, lippy as can be and confident in her knowledge of the law. The adventure she has makes her the woman she becomes.
This being the Coen brothers, they tend to do send-ups when they take on a genre piece (ie Brother, Where Art Thou-which I love, The Man Who Wasn't There etc) but not this time. There is no send-up in this one, outside a few homages.
It is, in many ways, a classic modern western told in a no-nonsense way that fills the screen with harsh but beautiful terrain, never lets us forget that it was a harsh, often unforgiving country to try and make your mark in and with characters as memorable as any created by the old masters.
It's as elegiac and moving as the hymn that drives the score and possibly made more moving by our memories of what came before but capable of standing on its own and never in the shadows of the previous movie.
I know some folks feel movies shouldn't be remade but I'm not one of them. This is a terrific story and a wonderful movie that stands on its own.
There is just so much to like about this film. The literate script with its dialog, which when you consider it, isn't easy to pull off. It is dialog of its time and place and not modernized for our ears. And yet, Bridges and Steinfeld both make it sound as natural as anything we have heard in other films. I am astounded that Ms. Steinfeld was 13 when she made this film as she is the heart and soul that holds it all together.
And, unlike some critics, I do not miss the original, more upbeat ending of the original film. This ending rings true with everything that has come before and anything less would ring false (though I did wish, for a brief second or two for that hoped for reunion). Mattie's response to Frank James was priceless.
Much like Miss Jean Louise Finch was shaped by the year and a half that it took Mr. Arthur Radley to come out, Mattie Ross was shaped by her adventure with Reuben Cogburn.
And I do hope Roger Deakins wins another Oscar next Sunday for his cinematography. The night scenes, especially in the snow, like all his others, are works of art.
Kudos to all involved.