Grit and grace

February 15, 2011

True Grit has
a lot of competition in the upcoming Oscar award night, February 27. It's not
expected to win big
, although it's been nominated for ten awards. Before
the attention fades, however, I want to cast one more vote for the western
remade last year by the Coen brothers.

My vote is based on the
success True Grit has had in making
me uneasy--uneasy about the way we've mythologized violence in the western, and
uneasy about the film's parallel to the moral landscape of contemporary
America, where violence and gun rhetoric remind me of the bluster of Rooster
Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) and the doomed belief in Old Testament blood justice displayed
by 14-year-old Mattie (Hailee Steinfeld). As she witnesses the horror of men hanged,
shot and dragged by horses, Mattie loses the innocence of her religious
bravado. "I was in the middle of it," she says. "It was a terrible thing to

Armond White, reviewer
at New York Press, says the
Coen brothers are making a statement about violence (even as they're
preoccupied with it) and makes a good case for his view. While it's still a
western, White argues, the landscape is stark and forboding. And the literary
language (honoring the book by Charles Portis), which adds interest and humor,
also serves to make the violence more jarring by contrast.

Finally, there's that
music. The soundtrack begins with "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms" plunked out
on a piano, then swells to the same hymm and others done with string
accompaniment. Meanwhile, the violence rolls on.

Is there a moment of
grace in the film? That's arguable, but there is one moment that stands out. Usually
the hero kills the "bad guy" and gallops off into the sunset. In this film, U.S
Marshall Cogburn must go back, retracing his steps in an  attempt to save Mattie's life. Night
falls, the horse stumbles with weariness and Cogburn stumbles on with Mattie in
his arms...

Soon afterward, the
credits come up and Iris DeMent sings one more plaintive version of
"Leaning." At that point, most of the audience is yearning for a sign of God's


True Grit revisited

Having made a point of watching the original True Grit ("free" cable) prior to shelling out $16 (for two) to this re-make, I found the comparison not favorable for Bridges, Steinfeld, Damon--but mostly for the producers. John Wayne at least was a lovable hero, not as drunk nor as stupid as this Rooster. The original Maddie: also more believable, not an alien misplaced in time, seemingly "above the fray" when surrrounded by danger, or, when left alone in the stark wilderness with her father's cold-blooded murderer. As to the "statement" against violence by the Brothers Coen, how much violence (Fargo, No Country for Old Men, etc.) is a statement before it becomes a contribution to the sickness?
Maybe it was the $16 that got me riled up.