I saw True Grit over the weekend, and, if you like spunky young women (and we do here at IWF), you aren’t going to want to miss it. Fourteen-year-old Mattie Ross, out to avenge her father’s killer, brilliantly played by Hailee Steinfeld, in her debut role, has true grit, as does Rooster Cogburn, the aging, one-eyed U.S. Marshall played by Jeff Bridges (John Wayne had the role in the original) who accompanies Mattie on her quest.
Mattie knows that it is unlikely that her father’s killer, a notorious outlaw (played by Josh Brolin), will be pursued and brought to justice unless she goes after him herself. She drives a hard bargain with the stable-owner who sold her father some horses and with the cash from that deal approaches Marshall Cogburn to hire him: “They tell me you have true grit.”
The movie, based on a book by Little Rock resident Charles Portis, is set in Arkansas, and the dusty scenery evokes a time when Arkansas was still frontier. It’s a tough place: Mattie witnesses three men hang and passes one night in the funeral home to save money. (The funeral director says it’s okay to sleep in a casket.) A tomboy with spirit, Mattie is nevertheless already imbued with a sense of how difficult life is. “Nothing comes free in this world,” she says, “except the grace of God.”
Mattie and Rooster set out for Indian territory, where the killer is hiding, with a loquacious Texas ranger (Matt Damon, who is excellent), who is also in pursuit of the killer for a previous crime, committed in Texas-well actually, they don’t set out together. Rooster tries to leave Mattie behind, but she and her horse, Little Blackie, who gallantly swims a river for her, catch up and the guys resign themselves to having Mattie.
One reviewer (alas, I can no longer find the review) thought that Mattie’s goal was to restore family honor, which she felt injured by the manner in which her father was killed. I saw it more as a quest for justice, though of course Mattie wasn’t exactly depending on the legal authorities to handle matters. But it’s a great adventure, with Rooster, broken down, often drunk, ruthless, and dirty, but, as it was said of him, full of true grit, always coming through for Mattie.
The movie is marred by no cant about Mattie’s being a girl. The Coen brothers, who did this remake, resisted any temptation to give the movie a “message” about the role of women or feminism. Mattie is simply a thoroughly appealing character, remarkable in her determination and ability to stand up to anybody who may prevent her from bringing in her father’s killer. Once she learns to cock the gun, she is not afraid to shoot.
After the adventure with Mattie, Rooster ends up in a traveling show, and doing that probably took true grit, too. Like many moviegoers, I am sure, I wished the movie had ended before Mattie’s encounter with a poisonous snake that would have such a profound effect on her life. But, of course, something of this sort had to happen because nothing in this life is free, including avenging your father’s murderer.