True Grit (2010), by Albert W. Vogt III

There will be some of you who might rail against me doing the 2010 remake of True Grit instead of the 1969 original, starring John Wayne.  You may be even more scandalized when I tell you that I have never seen the earlier film.  My job here, or with any other review, is not to catalog the differences between two movies about the same subject.  I examine each on their own merits, and any comparison that is made is done simply to illustrate a point.  Besides, you would be hard pressed to find anything in Hollywood that is not a rip off of something else.  Thus, since I have seen the 2010 iteration of the classic Western, you are getting a review of that one.  I hope that does not offend your sensibilities.

When you think of a title like True Grit, especially if you understand that genre in which it falls, then you might not expect its main character, Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld).  She is a young teenager who has come to Fort Smith (think of your typical Wild West town) in order to seek justice for the murder of her father.  She displays some of the title characteristics early on when she is able to convince a local horse dealer to buy some of her father’s now useless ponies. She then uses the money to purchase room and board nearby.  Her next step is to find somebody who can track down the man responsible for her father’s death, Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin).  The man she settles on for this task, to whom she will give fifty dollars for his trouble, is Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn (Jeff Bridges).  She had been told about him by others in town, and is impressed by how he handles himself in a court proceeding she witnesses.  Rooster, though, is not impressed by her, and does not believe she has the money.  The situation is further complicated by the fact that a vainglorious Texas Ranger named LaBouef (Matt Damon) is trying to do the job for her, whether she wants his help or not.  Like her bulldog negotiating tactics with the horse trader, she firmly rejects his offer.  The next day she revisits Rooster.  While he has given in to her request, he does not want her coming along, which is understandable to everyone except Mattie.  It is only after threatening Rooster does he appear to relent.  Yet, the following morning Rooster has gotten a head start on tracking down Chaney, and with LaBouef to boot.  Her determination to keep up with them by wading into the river with her horse and crossing to the other side with it impresses Rooster, and she is begrudgingly allowed to stay.  It does not take long for this arrangement to become too much for LaBoeuf, and he abandons them.  It is just as well as a bond is forming between Mattie and Rooster, though not in a way that is entirely recognizable.  This is not all that is happening as they travel.  They discover that Chaney has joined up with Lucky Ned Pepper’s (Barry Pepper) gang.  More information comes their way when they happen upon a cabin inhabited by two members who had supposedly quit the cabal.  I say “supposedly” because while they claim they have left, the amount of food the outlaws are preparing suggests they are expecting others.  This is Rooster’s hunch, anyway, and it is confirmed by one of the two, a man going by Moon (Domhnall Gleeson).  Hence, Mattie and Rooster set a trap for Lucky and his men, but it is sprung too early by the arrival of LaBouef.  Actually, he has continued to search for Chaney on his own, and Lucky’s men happen to find him outside of the cabin.  Mattie and Rooster (but really just Rooster) end up having to save LaBouef instead of going after their target.  The gang is chased off, and a frustrated LaBoeuf is tended to by Mattie.  Over the next couple of days, and a whole lot of drinking on Rooster’s part, he and LaBouef agree that to continue to look for Chaney is useless as the trail has gone cold and they are ready to abandon their mission.  Mattie is not pleased.  Her luck seemingly changes, however, when, while watering her horse at a stream, she encounters Chaney.  Unfortunately, the firing of her father’s pistol only slightly wounds her adversary, who has recognized her, and she is captured by Lucky’s men.  Having heard the commotion, all the parties converge on the stream.  Lucky and Rooster parlay and it is apparent that Lucky is aware of the legendary United States’ Marshal’s tenacious reputation.  Lucky also knows he has a valuable hostage, and convinces Rooster to ride away in exchange for vowing not to harm Mattie.  While most of the gang leaves to consider how to collect on their prize, Chaney is left to watch Mattie.  This is when LaBouef comes to her aid, knocking out Chaney and freeing Mattie.  They then watch a valley below where Rooster confronts Lucky and the rest of the outlaws.  Rooster rides against them outnumbered, though with some handy marksmanship from LaBouef assisting him, with the reins between his teeth so he can have a pistol in each hand.  Rooster’s mad dash succeeds in taking out every member of the gang, except for Chaney.  He comes to and returns the favor to LaBouef.  This leaves Mattie alone to confront her foe.  She quickly grabs a rife and kills Chaney, but the recoil knocks her back into a pit.  Rooster eventually gets to her, but not before she is bitten by a rattlesnake.  He then takes off on her horse to get her to the nearest place where she can receive help, completing the last leg on foot.  When she comes to, Rooster is gone.  We close with a grown-up Mattie (Elizabeth Marvel) attempting to track down Rooster, only to find that he had passed away.

One of the things that touches this Catholic reviewer about True Grit is the climactic moment when, after Mattie’s horse finally gives out, Rooster takes her in his arms and runs with her the last miles to where she can have the bite treated.  Rooster is not exactly cut out for such activity, and his heavy breathing attests to the effort.  This makes the act all the more special, a true Christian act from somebody who would likely not profess any faith.  What is also impressive is Mattie herself.  She clearly has a mission.  The Church would call this a calling.  While her initial motivation is revenge, one can at least admire the clear sense of purpose.  I do not mean “clear” in the sense of a narrow focus, but as somebody who truly knows what she is about.  That is a blessing in the Christian life, though one about which to be careful.  There have been those who have heard what they thought was God’s word in telling them what they should be doing in life, only to find that it proves incorrect.  This can be damaging in so many ways.  This is why it is so important to take time to spend with God and try to discern the path on which God seems to be putting you.  This is how Mattie has gone about what she is doing.  While it probably would have been best if Chaney had his day in court, God’s hand did appear to be on her.

True Grit is a solid Western that is worth your time.  I am not the biggest fan of this genre as I find them formulaic.  At the same time, there are characters that I can admire.  Yes, Rooster is yet another anti-hero, but he is one with a good heart.  As such, this film gets my recommendation.

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