It’s been a while since we’ve seen a good, authentic-looking
Western on the big screen. Who
cares if it’s a remake? It’s
still a good campfire yarn.
Sometime in the last years of the Wild West, in the late 1800’s, a
tenacious 14-year-old girl, Mattie Ross (fetching newcomer Hailee Steinfeld),
arrives on the train by herself at a remote frontier town next to
. She has received word that
her father was killed by a notorious outlaw, Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), but
the local sheriff didn’t bother to go after him over in “Indian
Nation” land. Mattie’s Mom,
whom we never meet, has apparently just resigned herself to raising her
other children alone, but Mattie wants revenge, and is determined to arrange
it. She marches right into the
livery office and carries on some tough negotiations with the horse trader
there who’d sold a herd of mustangs to her father.
She wants that sale remanded, compensation for her father’s horse,
and the fair market value of the outlaw’s horse.
The flabbergasted merchant eventually, under threat of lawsuit
(Mattie has a lawyer friend back home), hands over enough money to Mattie
for her to hire a Deputy Marshall, “Rooster” Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to
track down her father’s murderer and bring him to justice.
Along the way, they meet a Texas Ranger, La Boeuf (Matt Damon), who
is also hunting Chaney, to bring him back to
on charges of murdering a State Senator in
. Of course, neither the
Marshall nor the Ranger wants the girl along for the ride, but she will not
be deterred. And she has a
sharp tongue on her, as well.
As Cogburn shows himself to be a old drunk who may indeed have had
“true grit” at one time, but now appears thoroughly dissolute, and La
Boeuf can’t seem to get over his patronization of Mattie, even spanking
her for insolence (an uncomfortable scene to watch), and the trail for
Cheney grows cold, the great adventure seems to be turning into a fool’s
errand. Cheney appears to have
joined up with the notorious gang of “Lucky” Ned Pepper (fittingly
played by veteran character actor Barry Pepper), and Mattie begins to
despair of ever crossing paths with Tom Chaney, when suddenly and
unexpectedly, she does: at a
river where they’re both watering their horses.
True to Wild West adventures, the scenery is pristine, the silences
are long and languorous (except when Cogburn gets chatty-drunk), and the
violence is sudden and ruthless. Jeff
Bridges is as unforgettable in this role as John Wayne was in the original;
he produces a If there was any doubt about it being a coming-of-age
experience, Directors Ethan and Joel Coen decide to give us a
“postscript” at the end, when Mattie is now grown and Rooster is doing
some touring Wild West Show (reminiscent of Wild Bill Hickock) and the whole
era is consigned to some nostalgic place in the memory, except, of course,
that the pragmatic Mattie is still not romantic about anything or anyone.
But she does look back with fondness on the one time when they were
all called upon to show “True Grit”---as do we.
Giddy up, Padnah.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace