by Elaine Hegwood Bowen
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True Grit is a remake of the 1969 western that starred John Wayne, but now stars Jeff Bridges in the lead role of drunken, unkempt U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn. I went to see this movie with anticipation, because I fondly recall that my father loved this and other westerns. I remember watching him lost in the television, mesmerized by the entire cowboy, shoot-’em-up action.
The 2010 version of True Grit is very good; I really liked the newcomer, 14-year-old Hailee Steinfeld, who plays Mattie Ross, a young girl who avenges her father’s murder with fierce commitment. Her father was killed as he was off buying and trading horses and making a living for his family. After his death Mattie goes to the town to collect his body to ship back home for burial. But she’s not content with just collecting her father’s remains. She is out for blood, as she seeks to capture the man, Tom Chaney, played by Josh Brolin, who killed her father and bring him to justice. Along the way she cuts a deal with Cogburn and another lawman from Texas, Sheriff LaBoeulf played by Matt Damon, who is also looking for the same man. LaBoeulf has been charged with bringing Chaney for justice for killing a Texas senator, but Ross has no interest in bringing Chaney to Texas. She doesn’t care about that murder; she must make her family whole by having Chaney answer for her father’s death.
Now, all three must work together to get the man at the end, but not before much fanfare, gunshots, murders and sleights of hand involving gunplay. While the three may work together, the men view Ross as a stubborn distraction, from whom they would rather be separated. But she has money and her father’s gun to boot.
Ross is an intelligent, quick thinking young lady who leaves in her wake men who wonder after talking to her just what went wrong. She has an eccentric and pronounced way of telling you off; for example she reminds Cogburn that she won’t wait long for him to “wallow in his misery and bemoan his station in life.”
This version of True Grit, I understand, is grittier and much rawer than the original version. The narrative is told through the eyes of an older Ross, as she tells the story of her adventures with Cogburn and LaBoeulf, as they travel native Indian territory. Ross sees many things that a young lady shouldn’t see, i.e., dead skeletons, mutilations, murders and blood along the trails. She also faces dangers that grown men wouldn’t want to experience. But she does it with such confidence and conviction. You can tell that her father raised her to fear nothing; and it’s a good thing, because in the end Chaney does meet a kind of justice that is agreeable to all involved.
I loved True Grit and must admit that if my father were alive today, I would have to drag him to the theater or find another way that he could enjoy this “better than the original” remake of a classic western.
Elaine Hegwood Bowen is an editor, writer and film critic in Chicago.
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