“I Call That Bold Talk For a One-Eyed Fat Man.”

I’ve liked a few westerns here and there, but it’s fair to say that it’s not exactly my genre of choice. Still, when the Coen brothers remake of  True Grit hit theaters last year, I was kind of intrigued. I finally got around to watching it last week.

I don’t think it’s my very favorite western ever, but it’s up there.

SUMMARY:

Mattie (Hailee Steinfeld) hires a marshall, Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), to track down Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), the man who murdered her father. Matt Damon assists.

NOTES:

1. It is absolutely ridiculous that Hailee Steinfeld did not get nominated for Best Actress in a Lead Role.

I remember people saying that her part was substantially larger than a supporting role during Oscar season, but I didn’t quite realize to what extent until I saw this film. Hailee Steinfeld is in almost every scene.  The story revolves around her—it is her journey, no one else’s. She probably has the most dialogue. She certainly has the most challenging part, and she was, what? Thirteen or fourteen when the film was being made?

Steinfeld is excellent as Mattie Ross—headstrong, intelligent, stubborn as a mule. She doesn’t back down, and you’ve gotta like her for that. I also like that she doesn’t come off as a caricature. I admire her for her tenacity, but I can also recognize that she has flaws—a decently large puritanical streak, for instance, or a childish belief that she can always get her way. In the midst of all her gung-ho awesomeness, you never forget that she’s still a young girl who often naively assumes that everything will turn out well on what she calls her “big adventure.”

I’d like to be happy that at least Steinfeld got nominated, but putting her in the supporting category simply because of her age is both insulting to her performance and frustrating to actresses who actually were in supporting roles and got shut out of the category.

I must say, though . . . she did look really cute at the Oscars.

2. I’ve never seen the original True Grit, so I can’t say if it’s any better or worse than the remake. Likewise, I can’t judge Jeff Bridges’s performance against John Wayne’s. I can say, however, that Jeff Bridge is a lot of fun, and he has some great dialogue (when you can understand it). I’m not exactly sold on his Oscar nomination—I don’t know that he did anything I’d call a huge stretch—but he was definitely enjoyable.

3. I enjoyed Matt Damon too as Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (La Beef). He’s not exactly the brightest bulb, La Beef, but what starts out as sort of a bumbling idiot role turns into something else, and I liked watching him and Jeff Bridges play off one another. I read one review that said Damon was horribly miscast, but while I think it was certainly a different kind of role for him, I thought he did well with it.

4. Also, there is the vocal chameleon that is Josh Brolin.

Josh Brolin can do some crazy shit with his voice. I love watching stuff like this, where’s he’s all hillbilly caveman grrr guy, and then going back to what I originally know him from, The Goonies. The difference cracks me up every time.

Josh Brolin’s in this movie for a whole ten minutes or so, but I think he does well with what he has. I like that his character is not exactly what you expect him to be. I’ll talk a bit more about that in the Spoiler Section.

5. And for a final bit of casting: Barry Pepper plays Lucky Ned Pepper, which is cool for a couple of reasons. One, obviously, is that Pepper is playing Pepper. He probably got tired of that joke pretty damn fast. The other reason? In this film, Barry Pepper bears a strange resemblance to Robert Duvall, who played the part in the original True Grit. And this is weird because, in my mind, Barry Pepper and Robert Duvall do not look a damn bit alike . . . except here, where they totally do. It’s kind of awesome.

6. Here are some of the good things about True Grit: great cast, good dialogue, simple story, and nice cinematography.

Here are some of the problems I had with True Grit: uneven pacing, flimsy second act, and an unsatisfactory ending.

7. Let me expound on those problems a bit. True Grit’s a good film, but it seems stretched thin in the middle, like there really isn’t enough for the characters to do, at least not enough to fill up a two hour runtime. Certain scenes appear to have no significance whatsoever (ex: the bear man, the hanged man, etc) and often feel like they’ve been thrown in to, one, make the story quirkier and, two, cover the fact that the second act’s a little sparse.

8. As far as the end goes—I can’t give much detail before the Spoiler Section, but I can say that my problem isn’t with tone, exactly. I just feel like the last few scenes seem tacked on and clumsy. I didn’t like the balance with the rest of the movie.

9. On the upside, here are some of the quotes that I enjoyed:

Mattie: “But we promised to bury that poor soul inside.”
Cogburn: “Ground’s too hard. Them men wanted a decent burial, they should have got themselves killed in summer.”

Ned: “Most girls like to play pretties, but you like guns, do you?”
Mattie: “I do not care a thing about guns. If I did, I would have one that worked.”

Mattie: “Why did they hang him so high?”
Cogburn: “I don’t know. Possibly in the belief it’d make him more dead.”

Lawyer: “Did you find a bottle with a hundred and twenty-five dollars in it?”
Other Lawyer: “Objection, your Honor. Leading.”
Judge: “Sustained. Rephrase the question.”
Lawyer: “What happened then?”
Cogburn: “I found a bottle with a hundred and twenty-five dollars in it.”

Guy: “If you would like to sleep in a coffin, it would be all right.”

10. Finally, this is yet another “Carlie-Cannot-Understand-Anything-Anyone-Is-Fucking-Saying” film. Of course, Jeff Bridges delivers almost all of his dialogue in a slurry, drunken mess of vowel sounds—that’s pretty much to be expected, given the character—but Steinfeld’s also hard for me to hear on occasion, due to the low pitch of Mattie’s voice. And whatever the fuck Brolin is doing with his voice . . . sometimes, it’s more like caveman grunts than actual words, I swear.

Now, Matt Damon, he was supposed to be my saving grace, the one character I didn’t have to fight to understand the whole time. . . but then the character injures his tongue halfway through the film, and once again Carlie is like, “. . . what?”

Should’ve put the fucking subtitles on.

SPOILERS

SPOILERS

SPOILERS

SPOILERS

SPOILERS

The film begins with Adult Mattie’s voiceover, and I had two reactions to this narration almost instantaneously: one, I didn’t care for Adult Mattie at all, and two, I was relieved that Mattie probably wouldn’t die during the movie.

See, as being both an avid movie lover and an overanalytical bastard, I’m usually pretty good at watching a film and pointing out which characters are going to die and how they’re going to do it. My overanalytical nature is something of a curse, however, because sometimes I find myself so overwhelmed by the possibilities that I can give reasons for how every single character would die, like Character A can die nobly, but only if Character B makes it out alive, or Character C and Character D can either live or die, but they won’t kill off only one of them; they’ll live or die together. Because of this, I will sometimes be expecting a bloodbath that totally doesn’t happen. Case in point: Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. I could have made up whole charts detailing who could have died, who couldn’t have died, and how each of these deaths would have played out.

So, before I even took True Grit out of its little Netflix sleeve, I figured that anyone could potentially be killed off, even fourteen-year old Mattie. These are the Coen brothers we’re talking about, after all. I wouldn’t put it past them to axe a young, teenage girl. However, once Adult Mattie’s narration kicked in, I was relatively certain that she would survive. Ghost narration can be pulled off, sure, but Big Twist Ghost Narration? That’s considerably more difficult.

Anyway, so Young Mattie hires a very reluctant Rooster Cogburn, who then teams up with La Beef (it’s just funnier to type than LaBoeuf). Cogburn and La Beef break up and make up a few times on the journey, and only when it seems that the trail has gone cold does Mattie stumble across Chaney alone. And while it’s been previously suggested that Chaney isn’t terribly bright (Mattie thinks that he’s a half-wit, though I suspect Mattie feels this way about most people) I was still surprised by how dumb and ordinary Chaney was. The whole movie’s been about chasing this guy down, so when you finally see him, you’re just expecting something more, somebody really villainous or cunning or crafty. Such is very much not the case here.

Mattie shoots Chaney in the arm (or the shoulder; anyway, somewhere non-lethal like that). When she tries to shoot him again, the gun misfires, and he grabs her, taking her back to Lucky Ned’s gang. Ned decides to leave both of them behind and ride out, making Chaney promise not to kill Mattie. I’m sure you’ll be shocked to find out that Chaney tries to kill Mattie not five minutes later. La Beef rescues her, awesomely knocking Chaney out and then, somewhat less awesomely, fails to tie him up or bind him in any way, shape, or form. Gee, La Beef. I hope that doesn’t come back to bite anyone in the ass in, oh, seven minutes or so.

Cogburn, meanwhile, has ridden after Ned and his boys. They all face off, and Cogburn kills most of them before ending up on the ground at Ned’s mercy. Ned’s about to shoot Cogburn’s face off when La Beef takes him out with his mad sniper rifle skills. He gets about .06 seconds to celebrate said skills before the unbound and now very conscious Chaney takes him out with a giant ass rock. Whoops.

Thankfully, Mattie doesn’t need to be rescued this time. She shoots Chaney’s ass off a fucking cliffside. Unfortunately, the recoil knocks her down into a cavern or something where she is promptly bitten by a snake. Some people have all the luck.

Cogburn rescues her but has to get help since, quite naturally, the snake was quite poisonous. We get a moment to confirm that La Beef survived his encounter with the giant ass rock before Cogburn leaves him behind, whisking Mattie onto her own horse and racing to get her medical attention. To do this, he has to ride Little Blackie to death. You didn’t need a big flowchart of death to predict that one—a staple of the western genre is the death of a horse, particularly one that you take the time to introduce and name. But Cogburn makes it to a house, rouses the inhabitants with his gun, and pretty much collapses fifty feet away from it.

Fade out and then fade in on the ending that I didn’t much care for. We shoot forward twenty-five years to Adult Mattie, who I find much more irksome than Young Mattie for some reason. Mattie lost her arm from the snake bite (I do like that quite a bit) but she survived, at least, so that’s something. The voiceover informs us that she never heard from La Beef again and doesn’t know if he’s alive or not. She also loses track of Cogburn for a long time. When he finally writes to her, she goes to visit, only to find out that he has recently died. Oh, and she’s also an old maid who never married and presumably never had children. Upper! Kids, can we spell “feel good time”?

The movie ends with Mattie walking away from Cogburn’s grave, saying, “Time just gets away from us.” And . . . fin.

I didn’t mind the idea of this end, exactly. You lose touch with people, even people who were there during these huge parts of your life, and time just keeps moving on, regardless. It goes on whether you want it to or not. I don’t mind the incorporation of these ideas, and I do like that last line and shot . . . but the whole three minute end just feels kind of artificial, an awkward and badly summarized state of affairs that’s unnecessarily tacked on in an attempt to give the film more depth. It felt out of sync with the rest of the film, and I was not a fan.

CONCLUSIONS:

Despite problems with both the middle and the ending of the film, I really enjoyed True Grit. Funny, sharp, interesting western with a strong protagonist and ample gunfire.

MVP:

Hailee Steinfeld

TENTATIVE GRADE:

B+/A-

MORAL:

“You must pay for everything in this world, one way or another.”

Also, don’t underestimate a fourteen year old’s desire and capability for vengeance. She will shoot you off a cliff. Everyone will cheer.

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10 Responses to “I Call That Bold Talk For a One-Eyed Fat Man.”

  1. Susan says:

    “ever stalwart!” matt damon cracked me up…

  2. Fatpie42 says:

    I loved Mark Kermode’s comment on the “supporting actress” nomination.

    “By my reckoning,” he said “that makes Matt Damon lead actress.” Lol!

  3. Jim King says:

    Your opinion of this might be marginally improved by watching the John Wayne version, and reading the book. For its time it was probably good but not by today’s standards, unlike some of his other movies which hold up a bit better. He won an Oscar for this but I don’t know why, I suspect it was an unofficial Lifetime Achievement award. The book, too, is not really very good.

    I agree with you about the bear man. That should’ve been cut.

    I didn’t have any problems understanding anyone in this movie that I can remember.

    I also agree that Jeff Bridges didn’t do anything that great or Oscar worthy in his portrayal of Cogburn, but he did a good and effective job. The acting, across the board, was certainly far better than in the original.

    I don’t believe Matt Damon was miscast, I thought he was pretty much perfect for that character and certainly more appropriate and more convincing than Glenn Campbell.

  4. Macabre says:

    True Grit was one of my favorite movies from last year. It gets better and better with multiple viewings. I think I laughed more watching it than I did during any comedy from 2010.

    When I saw it in the theater, I kept waiting for Josh Brolin to appear. Going into it, I expected him to play a significant role. His character is important to the story, but the lack of screen time surprised me and kind of distracted me in a way. When he finally appeared and turned out to be a whiny oaf instead of a badass, I was bit like, “Huh?” That’s my fault for expecting such an archetype in a Coen bros. movie. Now I actually like that his character turns out to be so different from what we’re expecting.

    I remember reading an article where the Coens talked about how True Grit wasn’t so much a remake of the original film, but rather a more faithful adaptation of the novel. (I haven’t seen the original or read the book, so I don’t know how similar or different they are.) I think someone told me that the novel ends the same way as in the remake. I know a lot of people complained about the ending to No Country for Old Men, and that book ends the exact same way. Regardless, I echo your sentiments on the ending.

    I disagree with you about the pacing, though. It’s not a long movie, and it actually felt much shorter to me than it is (I just checked the runtime, thinking it was like 90-something minutes and was surprised to see it says 110 minutes). The scene with the bearskin guy is actually my favorite part in the movie. I want to look like that when I get older— grow a huge beard and walk around wearing a bear hide. (“Either one of you in need of . . . medical attention?”) I want to see a spin-off all about Mr. Bearskin and his medical practice.

    The other scene you mentioned that seemed unnecessary— the one with the hanged man— I thought was also a good scene, and important in its own way. We’re in the old west, but that’s the first scene that really reminds us of the lawlessness and danger of the era. Also, for the people expecting a more action-oriented movie due to the previews, the ones who may find themselves a bit taken aback at how dialogue-driven it turns out to be, will probably be sucked back into the movie during that scene. It’s a suspenseful scene, especially after Mattie cuts the body loose and we see someone else come riding up on a horse. At first we don’t know if the stranger is malicious or not. In the theater I noticed some people growing restless early on, but they seemed to stiffen and grow tense during that scene.

    Just curious, what are some of the westerns you’ve liked the most? I hated westerns when I was a kid. I thought they were terribly slow and boring. In the last couple of years, however, it has quickly become my favorite genre. Pulp Fiction has been my favorite movie for several years, but it’s currently facing stiff competition from Once Upon a Time in the West, which is, imo, the greatest western ever made. It seems like nearly every female character in a western is usually a prostitute, so I’m not surprised that it’s a genre that appeals mostly to men.

    • Jim King says:

      I know a lot of people complained about the ending to No Country for Old Men, and that book ends the exact same way. Regardless, I echo your sentiments on the ending.

      I liked the endings of both those movies, as they were not the disappointing feelgood endings we’re usually handed.

      The other scene you mentioned that seemed unnecessary— the one with the hanged man— I thought was also a good scene, and important in its own way.

      We didn’t need it to tell us that this was a lawless era. That point had been made many times already, and was the reason they were out there.

      • I haven’t decided how I feel about the ending of No Country For Old Men yet. I think i’d need to give that one another viewing to decide.

        I don’t mind the lack of feelgood in the True Grit ending, but those last few minutes just felt artificial to me. Not because the content or message was necessarily bad. It just seemed so clumsily tacked on. Didn’t care for it.

        I did actually like some of the dialogue in the hanged man scene, but like quite a few of the scenes in the middle of the film, nothing really important seemed to arise from it. I agree with Jim: I don’t know that I needed this scene to tell me this was a lawless era. It wasn’t that True Grit seemed long or boring to me, just that there might not have been enough solid material in the second act.

      • Fatpie42 says:

        I think if No Country For Old Men ended with the bad guy getting away, that would have been okay. What annoyed me was ending the movie with Tommy Lee-Jones recounting some random dream about this dad. It just felt like a complete non-sequitur. It could be argued that I just didn’t understand it, but I think that’s my whole point. As far as I could see, it didn’t follow properly from the rest of the movie.

        Just my opinion of course.

        I wouldn’t personally have said that the ending of True Grit was similar to NCFOM. She finds that she’s gone to visit him too late, but it serves to resolve things because we get to see what happened to her and, along with her, we’re remembering all that’s happened and seeing the effect that he must have had on her life. Unlike with NCFOM, I felt that I understood the importance of that ending.

        We didn’t need it to tell us that this was a lawless era. That point had been made many times already, and was the reason they were out there.

        The hanged body scene was important for the Coen Brothers version. What they expanded on there was that there were people trading in anything they can, even including dead bodies. It was a really strange idea and pretty interesting I thought. It was essentially replacing the scenes in the original where it’s revealed that some native Americans don’t believe in western medicine. I’d consider it an improvement.

    • I wasn’t crazy about the Bear Guy in the movie, but I must say, a spin-off solely about his medical practice might be sort of interesting, amusing, and terrifying : )

      Yeah, I didn’t like westerns when I was a kid, either. I’ve grown to like them more now, but I still haven’t seen very many. I have a working theory that I might be more of a Clint Eastwood kind of girl than a John Wayne kind of girl, but I haven’t fully tested this idea out yet. I really did like Unforgiven quite a bit.Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was awesome. It was so much funnier than I expected it to be. And while i haven’t seen the original, I thought the remake of 3:10 to Yuma was pretty great. I sympathized with Ben Foster. Who sympathizes with the Bad Guy’s crazy right hand man?

      I’ve actually always thought it’d be a lot of fun to play a prostitute in a western. Prostitutes can be interesting. And never forget, women also have Sharon Stone in The Quick and the Dead : )

  5. LibertyDefender says:

    I’ve not read the book, but I watched the John Wayne version again shortly before seeing the Coen Brothers’ version in the theater. I wholeheartedly agree with their assessment that it was a readaptation, not a remake.

    I enjoyed both versions of True Grit. Silverado is another fantastic western. (Note: don’t be put off by the fact that Kevin Costner appears in the film – he plays a dooofus, so it works, ha.) John Wayne was perfectly cast as Rooster Cogburn at that point in his career.

    Why has no one mentioned the score? I thought it was great, and did not mind having “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” stuck in my head for days afterward.

    I might have to read the book to see how the author explores the question, but the Coen Brothers’ version is enhanced when you ask yourself “Mattie Ross sought True Grit–did she find it, and if so, where did she find it?”

    Now that I’ve seen The King’s Speech, I agree with those who were outraged that True Grit was shut out at the Oscars. I think True Grit was a better movie overall, and frankly, I think that Jeff Bridges did a lot more with his role as a bold talking (drunken slurring) one-eyed fat man, than Colin Firth did in his role as a stammering prince.

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