There Is Nothing Free Except The Grace Of God
by Francis Cabal
True Grit (2010)
D: Joel and Ethan Coen
S: Hailee Steinfeld, Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper
Over the recent years, we have been treated to some gritty and sombre Westerns that managed to dispel the myth that the outlaw life is one of romance and adventure. Films like Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven and John Hillcoat’s The Proposition are perfect examples of these films. In a way, True Grit is no different. It’s sombre enough to fit in with these “De-constructed Westerns”, and yet it also serves as a fitting and loving tribute to the films of Howard Hawkes and the Westerns of the 50’s and 60’s.
The things that this version of True Grit share with the 1969 adaptation starring John Wayne are the title and the source material. This film has a vibe that only a Coen Brothers film has. It has its doses of dry (and sometimes outright absurd) humor, and it has an exuberance and a sense of nostalgia that can only come from a writer and a director who are fans of the genre.
The story is as timeless as both the book where this movie was adapted from and the John Wayne classic itself; a girl by the name of Mattie Ross enlists the help of an aging U.S. Marshal named Rooster Cogburn to hunt down the man who killed her father. In essence this is a revenge film, but with the help of the script and the direction by the Coens, plus the performances of the people involved, the intensity and violence of the typical revenge film is replaced with pathos and humanity.
The Coens are brilliant filmmakers, and at this point in their careers they can do no wrong. Their direction shows a confidence that stems from the fact that they are not only critical darlings, but commercial darlings as well. Compared to A Serious Man which is clearly a labor of love that is well-received by the arthouse crowd, this is probably their most commercial (and commercially successful) film to date.
And while they have assembled a fine cast including Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, and Barry Pepper, the true star of this film is Hailee Steinfeld as the 14-year-old Mattie Ross. Her performance managed to convey Mattie’s innocence, morality, worldliness, and all the complexities that comes with being a 14-year-old left in charge of her family’s affairs after her father’s death.
This is not the Coen Brothers’ best work, but True Grit is an amazing tribute to a time that has long been dead. I’m not just talking about the “old west”, I’m talking about a time when people made Westerns out of love for the genre, when kids still wanted to be cowboys, and people embraced romance and fantasy instead of nihilism and realism.
You might say otherwise, but I personally think that True Grit is the feel-good movie of 2010.