Fourteen-year-old Mattie Ross's (Hailee Steinfeld) father has been shot in cold blood by the coward Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), and she is determined to bring him to justice. Enlisting the help of a trigger-happy, drunken U.S. Marshal, Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), she sets out with him -- over his objections -- to hunt down Chaney. Her father's blood demands that she pursue the criminal into Indian territory and find him before a Texas Ranger named LeBoeuf (Matt Damon) catches him and brings him back to Texas for the murder of another man.
Good Except for Profanity
Well, those of you who know me are well aware that I am an unabashed John Wayne fan (see best of Duke Wayne films at end of review), so messing with his Oscar winner caused more than a raised eyebrow when I first learned of what I thought might be sacrilege. And when I mentioned the Coen brothers remaking True Grit to some Texas boys during a recent visit to San Antonio, well, they expressed their feelings succinctly, in one word (think barnyard). But I must admit, it's actually a very good film, except for Rooster profaning God’s name four times.
Author Charles Portis infused his novel (yes, I read it) with a colloquial jargon where no one used contractions, the dialogue being formal, yet succinct and humorous. This style was effectively used in the 1969 screen production, making it stand out from period pieces containing anachronistic wordage. The Coen brothers pay the same homage to the story's creator, but their film's tone is somewhat darker (like the book) than the original film. I suspect today's moviegoers will be more accepting of the excessive violence – and of Rooster Cogburn profaning God's name four times.
Gone is the inept performance of Glenn Campbell, but then so is the delightful score by Elmer Bernstein. (Bernstein's Rooster Cogburn theme perfectly reflected the stature of Wayne's persona and his tongue-in-cheek interpretation of Portis' crusty, one-eyed law man.) That said, the score in the new adaptation, supported by the well-orchestrated hymn "Leaning On the Everlasting Arms," is a thoughtful and grand replacement, making it one of the best film scores from this past year.
Solid Western - Maybe the Best of This Decade
Other positives: the costume and art design and the lighting and cinematography are exceptional; Hailee Steinfeld is pitch-perfect as Mattie; Matt Damon balances his portrayal of LeBoeuf beautifully as a not-so-bright but good man; and although the film is violent, Mattie's Christian faith is made clear on several occasions; the picture opens with a Bible verse ("The wicked flee when no man pursueth" Proverbs 28:1), reminding that while there are godless characters in the film, the time represented was one wherein the Christian faith was promoted in family life. People showed reverence for God and read the Bible. If you should suggest, "Hey, they had nothing else to do in the evenings," my retort would be, "Maybe they were better off."
The Coens have given us a solid western, perhaps the best of this past decade. But darn it, Rooster profanes God's name four times. In nearly two hundred films, John Wayne never showed irreverence toward the Creator or our Savior, not even as Rooster in his True Grit. Back in 1969, we fans would've been disappointed to hear him do so. Sadly, I can't name a major star from this generation who hasn't profaned God’s name or uttered Christ's name as a mere expletive on screen. Most, like Jeff Bridges, have done so frequently.
Wayne Was Perfect
John Wayne, actor: True, no one made more dreadful films (Rio Lobo, The Conqueror, Jet Pilot), but on the other hand, few have given us any more entertaining pictures than The Quiet Man, The Searchers, Red River, Rio Bravo, The Cowboys, Stagecoach, Angel and the Badman, Sands of Iwo Jima, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, In Harm's Way, How The West Was Won, The Comancheros, The Longest Day, The War Wagon, She Wore A Yellow Ribbon, Hondo, and The Shootist. Caution: if you should view The Cowboys, beware, it has some objectionable language during one scene where a boy gets mad at Wayne’s character and repeats a profane phrase. Wayne allows the boy to continue his tirade as it is causing the lad to defeat his stutter. Having cured the kid, Wayne walks off, muttering, "I wouldn't make a habit of calling me that." Perfect. He was perfect!
My dad is my real life hero, but John Wayne was and is my screen champion.
True Grit is rated PG-13 for some intense sequences of western violence including disturbing images.
(Three obscenities and a couple of minor expletives and Rooster profanes God's name four times. There's a scene in the original True Grit where a man gets his fingers chopped off and deed-doer stabs him, Rooster then shooting him. It's a pretty intense scene. Well, it's even more violent and graphic here, with a close-up of the chopped-off fingers; we see hangings, one where a vulture is biting away at the corpse. We've come a long way, baby. We as a society can not only take more excess in our movie content – we've come to expect it. Rooster is a hard drinker.) Running Time: 100 min. Intended Audience: Teens and up
What Others Are Saying
Crosswalk: Thanks to a whip-smart script by those ever-inventive Coen brothers, not to mention an old-fashioned fighting spirit in this quest for wrongs being made right, True Grit has plenty of substance and style, a formidable combination for any film, let alone a remake.
ChristianityToday: The Coens make their first Western - and it's one of the best movies of their career.
PluggedInOnline: It takes some serious grit to turn a John Wayne classic into a darkly ambiguous comedy. The results are both mesmerizing and maddening. It's a better movie than the original, but it's also more foul, more violent, and harder to watch.