Only God’s Grace Is Free
Release Date: December 25, 2010
Audience: Teenagers and adults
Runtime: 110 minutes
Distributor: Paramount Pictures/Viacom
Director: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Writer: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Address Comments To:Sumner Redstone, Chairman/CEO, Viacom
Brad Grey, Chairman/CEO
John Lesher, President, Paramount Film Group
5555 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90038-3197
Phone: (323) 956-5000
Joel and Ethan Coen (FARGO, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, MILLER’S CROSSING, and O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU?) have brought to bear their filmmaking talents to a new version of the story that hews a bit more closely to the book but also pays some homage to the 1969 version starring the great John Wayne in his only Oscar winning role. Best of all, unlike the 1969 movie, their movie adopts some of the overt Christian, biblical references used by the book’s narrator, Mattie Ross, a 14-year-old girl who travels West to hire a lawman to capture the outlaw who murdered her father.
This movie opens with a citation of Proverbs 28:1, “The wicked flee when none pursueth.” Of course, the second half of that verse says, “But the righteous are as bold as a lion.”
That second half perfectly describes the character of 14-year-old Mattie Ross, a farm girl steeped in Presbyterian values. In voiceover, young Mattie (played magnificently by newcomer Hailee Steinfeld) describes her father’s deadly encounter with a drunken hired hand named Tom Chaney. Chaney shot Mattie’s father dead, she says, when he tried to stop Chaney from killing someone else. Right at the beginning, Mattie remarks that there’s nothing free in life but God’s Grace and, therefore, Tom Chaney must pay for his crime. The problem is, Chaney has apparently lit out for Indian Territory to escape the long but apathetic arm of the law.
So, after bargaining cleverly with the stable owner trying to cheat her out of fair recompense for her father’s horses, Mattie hires the most ruthless U.S. Marshal in town – one-eyed, alcohol-swilling Rooster Cogburn, played by Jeff Bridges. At first, Rooster wants nothing to do with the job, but, admiring Mattie’s spunk, agrees to take up her offer.
Meanwhile, Mattie runs into a young, bragging Texas Ranger named LaBoeuf (“LaBeef”), played by Matt Damon. LaBoeuf has been tracking Tom Chaney because he murdered a state senator after killing the senator’s dog. Mattie explains to the Ranger that Chaney needs to hang for her father’s murder, not the senator’s, but he tells her in no uncertain terms that Chaney is HIS man, not hers. Besides, he wants the Texas reward.
Mattie had told Rooster she was paying him so she could go along with him and keep tabs on her investment. Even so, early in the morning, Rooster and LeBoeuf ride out together, with the intention of splitting the Texas reward for Chaney. Mattie hurriedly catches up with them, but has to ford a wild river alone on the new horse she bought from the stable owner. The two men watch this amazing feat, but when Mattie reaches the other shore, LaBoeuf starts spanking her with a switch. Mattie pleads for help from Rooster, and Rooster pulls out his pistol and threatens to kill LaBoeuf if he doesn’t stop. Thus, the decision is made – Mattie can go along.
Soon, the three unlikely companions discover that Chaney (Josh Brolin) is running with Lucky Ned Pepper (Barry Pepper – no relation) and his gang. After much adventure, climactic showdowns with Ned, Chaney and Ned’s gang occur. Only “True Grit,” Christian chivalry and a strong black horse will save Mattie’s life.
TRUE GRIT has all the ingredients for a classic western, but it also has a style, wit and voice all its own.
In the classic western, or at least those with any profundity, true justice depends on the individual rather than the law, which is shown to be ineffectual against evil or lawless men. Often, the western uses violence to affirm individualism but stops short of favoring anarchy by making the individual’s violent action an ultimate defense of the community against the threat of anarchy and evil. Frequently, the Western Hero is an archetypal wanderer who is neither part of Civilization nor part of the vast landscape, or Wilderness, in which he roams. This gives many westerns a tragic sense of loss.
All these things seem present in this movie, even though the story’s focus is on Mattie Ross, a determined young woman. The last part, about the typical Western Hero, is reflected in the character of Rooster, an isolated man who, though he defends Civilization and knows his way around the Wilderness, ultimately belongs to neither. The sense of loss is reflected in the movie’s last scene as Mattie reflects on her adventure and the men who helped her.
In sticking closely to the book, TRUE GRIT captures the style, wit and voice of Mattie from the book, as well as those of Marshal Cogburn and Ranger LaBoeuf. These characters speak in the more formal, literary cadence of the 19th Century. As such, they convey a lyrical chivalry that stands out against the harsh realities they face. When you couple that with the movie’s references to Mattie’s Christian background, you are left with something truly unique, which you don’t quite get in the 1969 movie.
All that said, this story and these characters also fit perfectly well with the unique style of filmmaking that the Coen brothers always bring to their movies, whether the movies succeed or not. Thus, like FARGO, you have characters here that speak with their own unique style and rhythm. And, some of the outlaws in Ned Pepper’s gang behave like some of the stupid but ruthless criminal types in previous Coen brother movies.
TRUE GRIT has a lot of humor in it, but it also has some heart-rending moments. The characters are very compelling, even if you’ve read the book or seen the John Wayne movie. And, there’s plenty of western excitement for those who like the kind of action that only westerns can bring to the movies.
There are, however, some strong obscenities and profanities. And, one scene of violence is extreme, when one outlaw whacks off the fingers of another outlaw to stop him from talking, forcing Marshal Cogburn to shoot him dead at close range. These things require strong caution, but the movie’s overt Christian, biblical themes and powerful spirit of chivalry and justice are stirring and gratifying.
TRUE GRIT is one of the more unforgettable movies of the year.
TRUE GRIT has a lot of humor, but it also has some heart-rending moments. The characters are very compelling, even if you’ve seen the John Wayne movie. Also, there’s plenty of room for the kind of action that only westerns can bring to the movies. There are, however, some strong obscenities and profanities, and one violent scene is extreme. These things require strong caution, but the movie’s overt Christian, biblical themes and powerful spirit of chivalry and justice are stirring.