Wednesday, July 10, 2013

True Grit (2010): A Review


   People do not give it credence that a fourteen-year-old-girl could leave home and go off in the wintertime to avenge her father's blood but it did not seem so strange then, although I will say it did not happen every day. I was just fourteen years of age when a coward going by the name of Tom Chaney shot my father down in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and robbed him of his life and his horse and $150 in cash money plus two California gold pieces that he carried in his trouser band.

                                                  ~Mattie Ross

    True Grit is one of my favourite books, my favourite western, and one of my favourite stories ever. It's a classic story about grit, perseverance and justice which has been around for half a century and yet is still unknown to many. I am quite an admirer of westerns and this is undoubtedly the best I have ever seen, because of the depth of the story, the incredible acting and the accurate depiction of the rough reality of the American west, and the courage of one young girl who stopped at nothing to see the man who murdered her father brought to justice.

  True Grit is a movie I've been wanting to review for quite some time, and since this is Hero Week over at Hayden's blog The Story Girl, I thought now would be the perfect time to do so. Mattie Ross is really the heroine of the story, but Rooster Cogburn and Mr. LaBoeuf are heroes in their own right as well and so I thought that it would be very fitting to review True Grit. 

   
   First of all, this review is bound to be studded with spoilers. It can't be helped. : P




"Reach for the sky.."

  Let us begin with Rooster. The character of Reuben J. "Rooster" Cogburn is a hard one to figure. He is a hardened, moody U.S. Marshall and former rebel soldier (which isn't stressed in the movie but is very prominent in the novel) who has an affinity for drinking, has killed 24 men in his four years as Marshall, and who can't roll a cigar properly. At first meeting, he is not very likable at all. In fact, he's absolutely disgusting. He is a man known for his "true grit" and toughness, which is what brings Mattie to him in the first place. He agrees to hunt down Tom Chaney for her but completely underestimates her and thinks she is out of her mind wanting to accompany him on the chase. Even from the beginning it is clear that he is not a bad character, but neither is he in the least affectionate and he is a very unpleasant travelling companion.
  However, by the end of the the story, Rooster has changed dramatically. He realizes he was wrong about Mattie and is actually the one who saves her life by carrying her to safety after she is bitten by a rattlesnake (the "ride to death" scene....*sniffle*.) He is truly a hero, even though at first he seems more like a drunken cowboy without feelings or compassion. He demonstrates compassion to Mattie on more than one occasion and by the end has proved that he isn't as hard an unfeeling as he seems most of the time.



      Mr. LaBoeuf, played to perfection by Matt Damon, is an arrogant and pompous Texas Ranger who wants Chaney for his own purposes, and who only comes along on the hunt for Chaney because he thinks Rooster is incompetent and because he "knows Chaney, and it is at least a two-man job taking him alive." He is at first very self-important and, like Rooster, completely underestimates Mattie in her resolve, mocking her and even whipping her when she catches up with him and Rooster after they (try) to leave town without her, but as the story progresses he becomes much more likable and even though still slightly annoying at times, he does manage to make himself useful. In the book, Mattie describes Mr. LaBoeuf (pronounced La-beef) as being very good-looking, which Matt Damon is not, unfortunately, but he suits the character perfectly and I don't know of anyone who could have played this part better.
  Mattie's first encounter with Mr. LaBoeuf is at Mrs. Floyd's boarding house, where they are both staying. One morning she wakes up and he is sitting in her room (which is kind of weird...), but Mattie is not at all intimidated by him (very few people intimidate Mattie Ross) and asks him if he is "some kind of law", to which he replies, very cockily, that he is a Texas Ranger. This is actually one of my favourite scenes because the dialogue between the two is so amusing, and so faithful to the book, which doesn't happen often these days. After Mr. LaBoeuf tells Mattie about Chaney and they have argued about what to do with him once he is caught, he tells Mattie that while he was sitting there watching her, he gave some thought to stealing a kiss, but now he would like to give her five or six good licks with his belt. Mattie, not in the least intimidated, replies that one would be as unpleasant as the other, and proceeds to tell him that if he wet his comb, it might tame that cowlick. : P

   The rivalry between Rooster and Mr. LaBoeuf is terribly funny.  Mr. LaBoeuf doubts Rooster's competence to handles such an infamous criminal, especially since he often "makes use of the bottle", and Rooster thinks Mr. LaBoeuf is stuck up and self-important. In a way, they are both correct, which is in part the reason why their dislike of each other is so amusing. Most of the dialogue is straight from the book and it is just hilarious the way they interact.

  Rooster: (Mr. LaBoeuf has been talking about malum in prohibition and malum in se, just after he was shot and his tongue was mangled.) "It astonishes me that Mr. LaBoeuf has been shot, trampled, and nearly bitten his tongue off, yet not only does he continue to talk but he spills the banks of English."

  Rooster: (after missing a shot he fired at a bottle he threw up into the air.) "That China man is running them cheap shells on me again."
  LaBoeuf: "I thought you were going to say the sun was in your eyes. That is to say, your eye."

 Rooster: (after singing for a long time.) "That was "Johnny on the Low Ground". There are very few fiddle tunes I do not know. Once heard they are locked in my memory forever. It is a sadness to me that I have sausage fingers that will not crowd onto a fretboard. "Soldier's Joy!" (Resumes singing.)
  LaBoeuf: (to Mattie) "I don't believe he slept."



    Mattie Ross, the real heroine of the story, is played perfectly by young actress Hailee Steinfeld. As I have mentioned before, I read the novel after I had seen the movie twice, but Hailee Steinfeld really does suit Mattie's personality perfectly and I was very impressed with her performance. I didn't know this until after I'd seen the movie for the second time, but Hailee Steinfeld was actually fourteen at the time the movie was made, the exact age of Mattie Ross. Usually young characters like Mattie are played by at least slightly older actors, and so I was even more impressed to learn that she was actually fourteen at the time.
  Mattie Ross is one of my favourite heroines in all literature, because at the young age of fourteen, in an era when most girls her age would be helpless, she is willing to do all it takes to see the man who killed her father brought to justice at last. She is one of the bravest heroines I know, and I really admire her courage, perseverance, and grit.



   Tom Chaney is one of the most pathetic villains I have ever encountered. It seems as though he is constantly whining and complaining about how "everyone is against him", and generally making a nuisance of himself. In the book it's even worse than the movie. Even though he is the main topic of conversation throughout most of the movie, he actually doesn't appear in the flesh until nearer to the end, when Rooster, LaBoeuf and Mattie finally catch up to the Lucky Ned Pepper gang. He is very sarcastic to Mattie because, like everyone else, he thinks she is just a helpless little girl, and is just a disgusting character.

 
    And speaking of disgusting....that pretty much sums up Ned Pepper. There is not a shred of decency in this character. He is just horrible. I suppose it was good of him not to kill Mattie on the spot, and he did give Chaney strict instructions not to harm her, but besides that he was just awful. In the book (oh, here I go again..) there is an entire scene when Mattie is in the captivity of the Lucky Ned Pepper gang, before Mr. LaBoeuf comes the the rescue, and Ned forces her to sign a lot of checks that he has, because he can't write. He makes ink out of a bird feather and his own saliva and mixes it up in the palm of his hand. It's really quite interesting. Anyway, I am a tad disappointed that scene is not in the movie, but if they did put in all these scenes from the book that I wish they had, it would be really super long. So I understand.


"Wait...are we trading again?"
       There aren't very many other characters besides the ones I've mentioned, but I think Colonel Stonehill is definitely worth mentioning. He is a businessman Mattie meets with near the beginning of the movie whom her father had done business with back when he was alive, and Mattie tries to convince him to buy back some ponies that her father had bought from him. He is extremely reluctant to do so, and the scene where they are negotiating is absolutely hilarious. When they finally do reach an agreement, it is exactly what Mattie had wanted in the first place, and he buys back the ponies begrudgingly and she buys a horse from him which she names Little Blackie. When she tells the stable boy to thank Colonel Stonehill for her, he says "No, ma'am! I ain't' supposed to utter your name!" : P



  The scene where Mr. LaBoeuf comes to the rescue ("Never doubt the Texas Ranger!"), shoots Chaney and then shoots Lucky Ned from such a long distance is possibly my favourite. It really shows Mr. LaBoeuf's good side- at least, that he actually has a good side- and it's just so exciting when he fires the shot and they don't know if it hit Ned or not, but then he slowly falls off the horse and Mattie goes wild with excitement. It shows that even though she's for the most part a serious girl who possesses wisdom beyond her years, she is still a child who gets excited from time to time. The part where Rooster is "one against four" is very heroic as well.
  Then, when everything seems resolved, Chaney (where did he come from?) shows up again and Mattie shoots him, causing him to fall off the cliff. However, the force from the shot thrusts Mattie into a pit full of snakes and gets bitten before being rescued by Rooster, who then takes her on Little Blackie to get help. This is the most tragic scene in the movie, because as they ride into the night, Little Blackie grows weary, and Rooster whips her to make her go faster, which makes Mattie very upset and she starts crying. Finally, Rooster has to shoot the horse and carry Mattie himself, at which point you think, "Oh look, he really does care about her." Because he really does. He didn't want to harm the horse, but he cared about Mattie so much more that in comparison he didn't really care what happened to Litttle Blackie. It is a very touching scene that is one of the best in the movie, and the song that is played while they are riding is my favourite on the soundtrack.




 A quarter of  a century is a long time.


Mattie at 40 years old

      Unfortunately, this movie does not end happily. Mattie recovers, but she loses her arm and ends up rather a sour old maid living the rest of her days alone, as it would seem, although that is not entirely true because in the book it says that she does have a brother Frank and a sister Victoria whom she remains close to. She learns that Rooster was travelling with a Wild West show and goes there to find him, but is told that he is dead. (Trivia time: the two men shown are actually Frank James and Cole Younger, who toured the south with their Wild West company in 1903 after their careers as notorious outlaws in the James-Younger gang. Actually, the James' and the Youngers are mentioned quite often in the novel as Rooster's former fellow rebel soldiers, but in the move it is not mentioned that that's actually who these two men are.) Mr. LaBoeuf is never heard from again, and the movie ends with Mattie visiting Rooster's grave. It is a very sad ending, but it's not an ending that makes you dwell on what a horrible ending it is, because it really isn't horrible. It's just sad.

  The score of this movie is very well-done. I had never before heard of the composer, Carter Burwell, who seems to be rather obscure, but apparently he is most famous for composing the music for the Twilight movies....yuck. Anyway, the music is just beautiful. The main theme is "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms, which is what is heard the most throughout the movie, and "What a Friend We Have In Jesus" is used near the end, when Mattie is shown visiting Rooster's grave....*sniffle*. I really like how the composer incorporated these old hymns into the soundtrack, because they're so beautiful and they make the soundtrack sound all the more authentic and western-ish.


  All in all, this is a very well-made movie that I would recommend to anyone who loves westerns or a good story. True Grit is rated PG-13 for western violence and language. The language isn't too severe, but if you have something like ClearPlay I think that would be a good idea. Also this is a western, my friends, so obviously violence is a bit of an issue. However most of it isn't too extreme, the worst being a scene where a man gets his fingers cut off, and there is also a hanging scene near the beginning where you may wish to turn away. Other than that, there is no other inappropriate content.

  I had the body removed to our plot and I have visited it over the years. No doubt people talk about that. They say, "Well, she hardly knew the man! Isn't she a cranky old maid?" It is true, I have not married. I never had time to fool with it. I heard nothing more of the Texas officer LaBoeuf. If he is yet alive, I would be pleased to hear from him. I judge he would be in his 70s now, and nearer 80 than 70. I expect some of the starch has gone out of that cowlick. Time just gets away from us.

                            ~Mattie at 40 years old



   This ends my true account of how I avenged Frank Ross's blood over in the Choctaw Nation when snow was on the ground.

                                         ~Mattie Ross

12 comments:

  1. What a great review! I saw this movie when it was the theater, and I greatly enjoyed it. I like it much better than the '70s version with John Wayne, which is really surprising considering John Wayne is my favorite actor. But I did not find that adaptation satisfying, and this one is wonderful. I especially love how they used the dialog style from the book -- it's so distinctive and fun to listen to.

    I'm new to your blog -- found you via Hero Week on The Story Girl. I really like what I see so far!

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  2. Oh, and Carter Burwell did the soundtrack for one of my favorite movies, A Knight's Tale.

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  3. Oh I so got'a see this! I have heard from a friend that the girl did an excellent job acting, which you really can't find in a lot of movies, so to hear that a kid did a good job in a movie really makes me want to watch it! I think I am going right now to ask Ally to put it on hold at the library.

    -Belle

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  4. I'm really glad you enjoyed the review! I actually haven't seen the version with John Wayne, and to tell you the truth, I don't really even want to, because this one is so good and so true to the book that I can't imagine the old one being any better. Pluss I love Hailee Steinfeld's Mattie, and my cousin told me that Mattie was really annoying in the old one.
    I know, the dialogue is just so amusing! : )

    ~Emma Jane

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  5. Bella,
    Yes, Hailee Steinfeld did an excellent job! I was very impressed, especially after I learned that she was only fourteen. And all the other actors are wonderful as well. I think you'll really enjoy it!

    ~Emma

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  6. No, unless you're a John Wayne fan, don't bother with the old version. The girl (Kim Darby) is really annoying.

    Just re-read your review, and I must disagree with you on one thing -- I find Matt Damon very handsome! :-D

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  7. Agreed, one of the best westerns ever made. Even though I prefer the original John Wayne True Grit, the remake is superior from a technical and acting perspective.

    I've always found the scene where Mattie shots Chaney hilarious and Chaney says, "I didn't think you'd do it! One of my short ribs is broke!" One of my many favorite quotes from film.

    Fantastic review, I'm following. :)

    -James

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  8. I'm glad you enjoyed the review! Yes, I like that line quote too. (Hey, that rhymed.) : P

    ~Emma

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  9. Thank you so much, Andressa! : )

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  10. Hey Emma,
    I had to comment because LAST NIGHT I WATCHED THIS. I have been wanting to watch this for months and finally, I did. It was worth it. Unfortunately, we got our movie off the internet and the quality wasn't overly amazing, but it still worked. (I also got the book out of the library today, which I'll wait until my Mum gives the 'okay' (hopefully she will :-P) so I can read it! I also found Lonesome Dove (the book) and realized they have the movie at a different library that I can book in. So I was rather happy. :-D) Anyway, back to this. I saw the John Wayne one first and thought it was quite good. Comparing these two, I definitely liked Hailee over Kim. (Something wasn't QUITE right about her.) I preferred Matt Damon also, (but I must disagree with you - I do find him handsome! :-P) but as to Rooster I can't decide. As much as I dislike John Wayne I am leaning towards his take because Jeff Bridges' seemed like he was a bit TOO drunk for my liking, and I couldn't understand half the things he said. (Maybe it was because of his "accent" or because of the poor quality of our movie.) I find the law court room at the beginning a little drawn out, but other than that I greatly enjoyed all of it. I liked the music, especially when Rooster rides Mattie when she's got the snake bite - Oh the feels! Yes, I very much liked it and will be seeing it again. :-)
    Also, that "your EYE" has to be my favourite part of the movie. Just 'cause. :-D
    ~Miss Meg March
    P.S. She said LaBoeuf was close to 80 now, yet it was only 25 years later, which left me scratching my head (maths never liked me). He didn't look 50+ in the movie. :-P

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    1. Miss Meg,
      EEEHHHHH you watched it!!!! Yay! And you liked it! Awesome. :-)

      Hailee Steinfeld's Mattie is the only Mattie Ross I can imagine. I hear she's much closer to the Mattie of the book than Kim Darby. And I don't know why I didn't used to think Matt Damon was handsome -- because I do now! (I'm not sure what was wrong with me as a child..?) ;-) Yeah, Rooster's pretty rough, but I think Jeff Bridges is brilliant. I can't remember having a hard time making out the things he said...maybe it was the poor quality of the version you watched? And the courtroom scene is actually one of my favorites. I love Rooster's dry wit. :-) (In the book it's SO good.)

      SPEAKING OF THE BOOK. It is one of the most amazing works of literature ever written. I hope you love it as much as I do!

      ~Emma

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