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True Grit – Orion’s Take

If there is such a thing as a perfect western, this is it.

For me, the idea of a western is the idea of a young America, an America untamed and still a bit wild around the edges.  This film captures the sense of an America still learning about itself, a country not wholly explored or even at ease with itself.  This is a changing country, and one that requires true grit to live in.

We are introduced to the title early on in the film.  The protagonist Mattie Ross (played without a hint of hesitation by the newcomer Hailee Steinfeld) is seeking a U.S. Marshall to help her find Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), a drifter who killed her father, and bring him to justice.  The fast-talking, spirited, and bright young girl settles on United States Marshal Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogburn (an excellent Jeff Bridges) a rather disreputable but well-known Marshal who displays “true grit.”  Cogburn agrees to the terms, but attempts to leave Mattie behind.  Mattie and Cogburn also meet the Texas Ranger La Boeuf (hilariously played by Matt Damon) who is also tracking down Chaney for reasons of his own.

The cinematography is beautiful.  The wide shots of wilderness, whether it is lush or barren, are truly powerful, and the camera work never gets in the way of the story, which is told rather simply.  The Coen brothers aren’t especially known for their subtlety, but this film is handled delicately.  Quiet treks in the forest or shootouts on a plain, both are handled without excessive sentiment or heavy-handedness.

Of all the strong performances in this film, I really have to commend Hailee Steinfeld for an absolutely pitch-perfect rendition as Mattie Ross.  Her tongue cuts like a knife and stings worse than a wasp.  In one scene she takes Matt Damon’s character apart, piece by Texas piece.  In another, she negotiates with a seasoned businessman and takes the clothes off his back (figuratively).  Matt Damon is excellent as usual as the rather buffoonish La Boeuf, and Jeff Bridges manages to rise about acting to embody his character’s soul, yet I cannot help but think Hailee Steinfeld did the best job.  The rest of the cast is excellent, but the focus of the film is always on Mattie Ross.

Everything is nigh on perfect in this film.  The Coen brothers leave no little detail out.  As a good example, take Matt Damon’s pronunciation of adios, which he pronounces “ehdios,” like a proper Texan might.  And in the one part of the film where the Coen brothers had a chance to stretch their directing muscles (a scene of delirium), they show surprising restraint.  The resulting scene is both frightening and beautiful.  The ending, when it comes, is elegiac yet not melancholic.

Shot with an eye for grit and for beauty, this film will leave you breathless at times, while you marvel at the sheer energy of an untamed land.  This is what America was.  This is a western.

5/5 Waffles

-Orion

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