True Grit

It’s not often that I get to see two films in a day both of which, different as they were, could be described as masterpieces. I had avoided watching Joel and Ethan Coen’s finely tuned, beautifully crafted “True Grit” since I had thought that Jeff Bridges as the one-eyed marshal Rooster Cogburn could never replace John Wayne in the original 1969 version. Fortunately, he doesn’t have to, this is really not a remake. Casting is more ‘primus inter pares’ and Bridges gives the other characters much more room in this darker, harsher interpretation than in the original. The beauty of the movie is in the weighty precision of the prose, lifted wholesale from Charles Portis’ original novel, as authentic as if reading Mark Twain and wonderfully offset by the landscapes of Santa Fe and Texas. The Coen’s have taken a “formal, reverent approach” to the Western genre, with its emphasis on simplicity, adventure and high quest. The stilted patois of the characters and the love of language that suffuses the film, makes it similar to their other work, but without irony. A man’s “yea” was indeed “yea” and his “nay” “nay” in those days of strength and wilderness, without a whisper of tongue in cheek.
Kim Darby’s Matty Ross has a worthy successor in thirteen-year-old Hailee Seinfeld. There is something fractious, irritating yet deeply admirable about Matty, in particular the Presbyterian-Protestant ethic so strongly imbued in a 14-year-old girl. “Is your every utterance to be indecipherable, Marshal? Your vocalisations are less words than outhouse rumbles after overconsumption of whiskey and chicken wings. Does your throat retain an unfortunate tumbleweed?”
The role that the soundtrack plays in rhythmic distancing of perspective lends the film a powerfully memorable breadth and the alternation of traditional orchestral “western” music with intimate folk gives it a spare, accurate feel. We become particularly aware of this in the final scenes, when the epilogue is set to a honky-tonk solo piano, a striking contrast from the mythic sweep of the stars as  Cogburn, exhausted, saves her life and  brings Mattie “home”.  What follows the epilogue is Iris DeMent’s haunting version of Elisha Hoffman’s 1887 classic from Deuteronomy 33:27 Leaning on the Everlasting Arms which plays over the credits and appears at intervals throughout the movie. I was spellbound and close to tears. Unmissable.


4 thoughts on “True Grit

  1. The Cohen Brothers never desapointed me, I owe them hilarious moments as well as tears in Fargo (which I put in my top ten), with the great Frances Mac Dormand as a pregnant cop chasing murdurers in …Saint Paul Minnesota's snow…yekkk,
    as well as unforgetable Buscemi, Jeff Bridges and Turturo, my favourite…

    Here are a few quotes, not to read if you are allergic to F…

    By the way, ISM* (International Son of Mine) said he hardly understood the accent, I'd better go to a theatre with subtitles



  2. Argh!! When do I have time to see all these stellar offerings? I love Jeff Bridges, having been “grabbed” by him in 'Blown Away' (Don't bother….great acting, crappy movie) and have been curious about him doing Rooster after JW. Now I'll have to see it for sure.

    @Gipsy… I'm with you. I like the actors who look like real men and appear to have something going on mentally. lol


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