Mattie Ross would put today’s young people to shame.
The plucky, determined teenaged heroine of True Grit sets out in the Wild West to avenge her father’s death by chasing down his killer with the aid of a worn-out, frequently inebriated U.S. Marshall whose modus operandi appears to be shoot first, ask questions later.
When we first meet Mattie, she has left the family farm and come to town with a farm hand to collect her father’s body. But Mattie has more on her mind than grief. She intends to have justice for her father’s killing and after sending the servant back with the coffin, the young girl makes inquiries as to the best man for the job of tracking the murderer, Tom Chaney, a menacing Josh Brolin. Mattie’s search leads her to Rooster Cogburn, masterfully played by a grizzled Jeff Bridges, by far the least reliable of her choices, but the one she deems to have enough “true grit” for the part.
After haranguing a cotton trader into refunding her money for goods and stolen ponies, (the scene, with a determined Mattie using her entire arsenal of verbose logic and badgering the poor man into submission, is one of the film’s highlights), Mattie eventually manages to engage Cogburn’s services, informing him that she will be joining him in the chase. It’s the next morning, when she arrives to find him gone without her, that we see the true extent of her fixation. She takes off, fighting a swollen, rushing river on horseback, finally catching up with Cogburn and a reluctant ally, a Texas ranger named LeBoeuf, looking a bit like a rodeo sideshow act, played convincingly by Matt Damon, and informs the lawmen that they’re stuck with her, like it or not. They most definitely do not.
The strange trio encounters all manner of oddities and villains while traversing the magnificent and solitary landscape in search of Chaney. Forming a grudging and not always effective alliance, they bond in ways that prove life-altering, if not ever-lasting, for each.
Joel and Ethan Coen, directors of the remake of Charles Portis’ novel, bring their love of language to the film, showcasing beautiful dialogue, especially as it falls from the mouth of their heroine. For her part, newcomer Haliee Steinfeld handles her role with aplomb, her intricate passages lovely and believable. Cinematically, the film is stunning, making the viewer long to jump in the saddle and ride the trail to see the glorious expanse of land and sky.
Does Mattie get her man? Does Cogburn prove his mettle and fulfill Mattie’s faith in him? Is LeBeouf more than the comic relief his attire implies? Even if you’re no fan of the western, see True Grit. With a compelling story, top notch acting and a young heroine who lives with a sense of purpose and conviction that eludes even most twenty-somethings today, the film is a must see. You’ll leave the theater wishing you could climb on your horse and head off to a campfire, whistling Home on the Range and looking forward to an adventure of your own underneath an endless prairie of stars.