If you watch movies, and I know you do, when the Coen brothers release a movie you have to see it. True Grit is a movie you have to see and there are a number of reasons for this. If you’re not a fan of Western movies, it doesn’t matter. Go see it and just prepare yourself ahead of time for the odd pistol shot to the face at close range or a shotgun blast or horses, and you’ll truly be able to enjoy quality movie making.
What makes movies made by the Coen brothers so compelling is that there is very little to miss. The comments from actors who work with the Coens say how tightly prepared they are when they get on set. They know exactly what they are gong to shoot, where the actors will be, what angles to take, and it pays off in the final product.
True Grit is so engaging because you have to pay attention all the time. The shots of the open landscape are amazing and are representative of the isolated, lone rider, character associated with Western films. As the characters ride across the it in slow chase of their man, the audience gets a sense of each character’s loneliness and the tension building between being alone and slowly forming a connection between them.
The story is about Mattie Ross, a 14 year-old girl, who has come to the “Wild West” to find the man who killed her father and bring him to justice. She hires Rooster Cogburn, a grizzly bounty hunter and marshall, with a pension for shooting people and for catching his man. Also after the “bad guy” is a Texas Ranger named LaBoeuf who has been chasing this same man, Tom Chaney, for weeks. The loquacious LaBoeuf joins the two others and the three set of in search of Chaney.
A Coen brothers movie is also a lesson in English grammar. Another reason why you have to pay attention every step of the way is because the dialogue is so articulate and fine that you are interpreting words as much as watching action. LaBoeuf is an excellent counterpose to Rooster in his somewhat foppish get-up and elegant style of speech. Rooster is old, drunk, and wears an eye-patch which could seem like a cardboard cutout of a Western character if not for Jeff Bridges’ consummate acting skill.
Mattie Ross, played by Hailee Steinfeld, is surprisingly great. Often, young characters come off as annoying and trite, however, Mattie appears grown-up and her way with words allows her to get her way with the adults who think they can push her around. It is clear she has been heavily influenced by a lawyer friend of the family, who we never see, because of her knowledge and her quest for justice.
The law is also another interesting facet of the film and I think the Coen brothers were very deliberate in wanting to show how the “Wild West” had a strong sense of law and order. I won’t explain it too much but there are signposts throughout that would support this.
True Grit will go into my library of classic movies for the way it takes a well-used genre of film and produces a real Western. Unlike the first True Grit where you watch John Wayne more than any character or scenery, the Coen brothers movie craft is a rare breed to be cherished. We get so used to watching sixty per cent movies that are lazy and go for the cheap trick to get the audiences’ attention. Rarely do we have to think through the whole thing so thank goodness for the Coen brothers and their raising of the movie making bar.