True Grit (2010)

Rated: PG-13 for some intense sequences of western violence including disturbing images
Length: 111 minutes
Grade: A,C,A,A=A
Rotten Tomatoes: 96% favorable, 8.4/10 average
Budget: $38 million
Box Office: $249 million (171 U.S., 78 Intl.)

Written and Directed by: Joel and Ethan Coen (A Serious Man, Burn After Reading, No Country for Old Men, Ladykillers, Intolerable Cruelty, The Man Who Wasn’t There, O Brother Where Art Thou?, Big Lebowski, Hudsucker Proxy, Barton Fink, Miller’s Crosing, Raising Arizona, and Blood Simple) based on the book by Charles Portis.
Starring: Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld
With: Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, and Barry Pepper.

A very confident and capable fourteen-year-old girl hires a gritty U.S. Marshall to find and bring to justice the man who murdered her father.

Entertainment Value: A
The Coen brothers have had some tremendous successes, and they have also had some terrible failures. This is some of the best work they have ever done, showing that the incomparable quality displayed in No Country for Old Men was no fluke at all. Simply put, this is a true western. A simple plot with just the right balance of drama and action wrapped around a solid core of fantastically impossible and over-written dialogue, the sort that drips like honey from your ears. My only complaint, and I say it as a man who wishes he didn’t have to say anything negative at all, was that both major gunfights left me baffled as to the outcome of the fourth man, who is gone from the scene but never shown killed or fleeing. It seemed to be an editing oversight, but to see the same exact error twice almost invites speculation rather than criticism. This deserved all ten of its Oscar nominations, and in fairness, the other films deserved their victories over it, with the exception of The Social Network for best adapted screenplay. My only real gripe with the Oscars was why Hailee Steinfeld was nominated only as supporting female actress and not as leading female actress, which she clearly was.

Superficial Content: C
Drugs/Alcohol C, Sex/Nudity A, Violence C, Language B
There is some occasional mild profanity, and alcohol is continuously consumed in the movie. But the clear and only substantial issue is violence, which involves lots of shootings with blood, one hanging of three men and another man found hanged later, and a scene with a man having his fingers cut off and being stabbed in the chest. PG-13 is correct. Also, given that the plot revolves around a teenage girl in what can only be described as uncertain circumstances, the absolute chastity of the movie is really a point worthy of praise.

Significant Content: A
As a movie which tells you its point before it begins, and with a Bible quote no less, it’s hard to do anything but give this an A. “The wicked flee when none pursueth.” Proverbs 28:1 The Coens are Jewish, but the oft-repeated melody in this movie is one of the most famous Christian hymns, “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.” The ongoing purpose of the movie is to show that determination and perseverance are two of the key characteristics of real virtue. Justice must be served, no matter the cost. That is the only thing that differentiates good and civilized men from evil. If a person can have total confidence that God and right is on her side, Mattie will bend the universe to her sternest demands for justice. This is the mountain-moving faith that drives the young woman.

Artistic/Thought Value: A
I’m not sure this is necessarily a big thinker after-the-fact. But the level of erudition in the writing and the complexity of the dialogue alone make up for that. You get your education during this film, not afterward. Moreover, the crafting of such a masterpiece as a work of western art alone justifies the A grade here.

Discussion Questions:
~What is the relationship between the quote from Proverbs and the rest of the movie?
~What is the meaning of the title? Who in this movie has True Grit?
~What makes a good man (or woman)? Who in this movie is a good man (or woman)? Why? Who is not? Why not?
~What do you think is the point of having the hymn “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” playing throughout the movie as the main theme/variations?
~The courtroom scene seems to portray Cogburn as almost a vigilante, but this is sharply contrasted with his demonstrated behavior in the rest of the movie. Is the movie trying to make a point about courts and the law as opposed to real truth and justice?
~How do you interpret the final scene, especially about Mattie’s long-term life choices? Who is she trusting to keep the final record/reckoning about men’s (or women’s) virtue?
~Mattie is clearly willing to speak her mind to anyone at any time, regardless of the consequences. Is her forthrightness always a virtue? Which virtue would you rate more highly: her composure and ability to battle with her wits in any situation or Cogburn’s composure and ability to battle with weapons?
~Does the impossibly articulate speechmaking in this movie serve to undermine its realism or raise it as a work of art in your mind? Should movies strive to duplicate reality or improve upon it?

Poignant or memorable scenes:
~Mattie negotiating with the merchant in town.
~Crossing the river on horseback.
~When the marshal is leaving.
~Saving her from the snakebite.

Overall Grade: A
This may not be the Coen brothers’ best film (No Country for Old Men must win this acclaim), but it certainly shows once again why it’s easy to forgive their catastrophes when they come home offering something like this as another glimpse of their filmmaking brilliance.

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