Friday, January 7, 2011

True Grit

I went to see True Grit last week. I didn't know much about it going in - Firefly aside, I'm not really a 'western' kinda girl. The trailer my friend sent me looked funny, though, so off we went.

I really enjoyed about 90% of it. It had a good story, and kind of a dry sense of humour, and I got a huge kick out of that. I did feel, though, that it fell apart a little toward the end. Still, on the whole, an enjoyable experience.

For anyone who hasn't seen it, it's the story of Mattie Ross. Mattie is a 14-year-old girl whose father has been killed by his former business associate, Tom Chaney. Mattie travels to the town where he was killed, sent by her mother to collect the body and put his affairs in order.

She does as she's told, but sends the body home with a friend and stays on to hire a U.S. Marshal to help her hunt down Tom Chaney, who has escaped into Indian Territory, and bring him to justice. She looks for the Marshal with the most badass reputation, and finds Rooster Cogburn, an aging one-eyed alcoholic.

They set out into the wilderness, and along the way their mission is complicated by the arrival of LaBoeuf (pronounced throughout the movie, I'm afraid, as LeBeef), a Texas Ranger who also wants Tom Chaney. Tom Chaney, it turns out, has a string of similar misdeeds in his past and is generally not a nice man.

Jeff Bridges as Cogburn was wonderful. Crusty and crochety as he was, you really came to love him. And his relationship with Mattie was complicated and beautiful. His rivalry with Matt Damon's LaBoeuf, on the other hand, was hilarious. LaBoeuf himself was kind of a whiny little shit, but in a wonderful way.

The most amazing thing, though, was Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie. Good Lord. If is to be believed, this little girl is actually fourteen years old. Fourteen years old! And she carried the entire movie. And she was brilliant. I can't even wrap my head around that. My car is fourteen years old. I was kind of assuming she was another of those early-twenty-somethings playing fourteen. Clearly not.

Mattie was an enormously interesting character. She always said exactly what she thought. She was very direct, and very, very smart. You could see she was scared, but it never stopped her. She was a tough negotiator, and for the most part she got exactly what she was after. It did lead to some interesting consequences, though.

There was one scene where LaBoeuf actually does what he threatened to do and takes her over his knee and spanks her. The scene was set up to be funny, and I found myself laughing at it. Until the politically correct part of my brain piped up that, technically, this man was beating a child, and it shouldn't be funny.

I found myself thinking about this after the movie. Basically, was I a bad person for laughing at it. And in the end, I decided no.

Mattie was walking around a frontier town, alone, acting for all intents and purposes as an adult. She was getting in the faces of some very powerful and not-so-nice people, and she was - deliberately or not - counting on her status as a child for protection. And in an environment like that, she was just lucky the consequences of her actions came back to her as a little girl and not as a woman.

Also, LaBoeuf wasn't actually doing her any harm. He spanked her and he struck her across the legs with a switch a few times. I'm sure it hurt, but she wasn't injured in any way. And her tears, I think, were more for the humiliation of it than for the pain.

(Please don't take this, by the way, as an argument for corporal punishment. This was not about a parent disciplining a child. This was about a Texas Ranger in the wild west lashing out at an antagonist. It was the best out of a series of bad options, is what I'm trying to say.)

And on an only tangentially related note, I wanted to comment on the courtroom scene in the movie.

Mattie's goal was to bring Tom Chaney back to stand trial for the murder of her father. So, early in the film, we have a courtroom scene for an unrelated case, which has the double purpose of showing us the legal system that Mattie is so attached to, and of introducing us to the questionable tactics of Rooster Cogburn.

And it played exactly like a scene from Law & Order. I was riveted.

Like I said, I'm not a western kinda girl, so I don't know if it's like this in all the movies. The image I have in my head, though, is of the lone sheriff, or the vigilante in a lawless territory. Seeing that sophisticated Law & Order legal system in action in that context was just awesome.

So... yes. On the whole, I enjoyed it. I would be interested in hearing from anyone who has seen it. What did you think? Particularly of the ending. It didn't really work for me, but I'm looking for other opinions.

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