It’s a good thing True Grit is a good movie, otherwise the critics would have had a field day rhyming with Grit. If grit were all you needed, this film would deliver on the grizzled men, dirty and grumbling with rotted teeth. Of course, you can also admire the story, the characters, the world, the humor and/or the action.
The Coen Brothers introduce the West with a wondrous tone. Soft music and deep shots full of frontier life portray the world Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) enters. She handles her business immediately, negotiating money, room and board for picking up her father’s body. She even knows what writ to cite when haggling with Colonel Stonehill (Dakin Matthews).
Rooster Cogburn’s (Jeff Bridges) introduction is magnificent. Mattie first meets him in an outhouse, which is brilliant, but we don’t see him until he’s on trial. The camera sweeps around the courtroom, welcoming the viewer in and working up to the close-up on Rooster. The cross-examination explains all of Rooster’s kills, and it’s so entertaining how Rooster just has his way with the lawyer.
The Coen humor is present immediately, with dark jokes about a public hanging (the native American doesn’t even get to say his last words, which is accurately racist and hilarious). A mortician’s line pays off bitterly. First he tells Mattie, “If you want to kiss it, it’ll be all right” meaning her dead father. Later when she stays in his house he says, “If you want to sleep in a coffin, it’ll be all right.” A kind offer, but man, that’s dark. It can be lowbrow humor too. Mattie has to share a bed with a snoring blanket hogging grandma.
Mattie hires Rooster to help her find and kill Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), her father’s murderer. Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) is along for the ride. Rooster trash talks the Rangers before ditching LaBoeuf, and then of course he bonds with Mattie. She’s so cool that you see how a grizzled gunslinger would take to her. Rooster’s rant about his ex-wife is funny filler for the journey.
The dialogue is just the right kind of old timey where it doesn’t sound like us, but we can follow what they say. The cinematography still has some Coen touches. The opening shot with house lamps on a dead body at the door step under the snow. Then there are the heroic low angle shots and the score will swell to the hero moments like when LaBeouf shows up again at exactly the moment he’s needed.
True Grit is just quality filmmaking. It captures exactly what the filmmakers were going for and delivers a show full of different aspects for audiences to enjoy.