True Grit

“The wicked flee when none pursueth,” opens the Coen brothers’ bleak western, but the Proverbs quote is a red herring. Dumb and deadly Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) is on the run after shooting his boss in the back, only he’s being pursueth all right by the dead man’s daughter, Mattie (Hailee Steinfeld), a teen girl as relentless as a shark. (She’s even got the cold, calm eyes.) We never meet her father and we don’t have to; we get a sense of the bastard from watching Mattie roll cigarettes, bark orders and bargain bankers out of their money. But she can’t track and kill Chaney on her own—for one, it ain’t fully legal. Enter U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), famous for keeping one hand on a pistol, the other on a bottle of whiskey. John Wayne won an Oscar for originating the role, and it’s easy to love the one-eyed drunk—especially as the Coens know how to handle his mordant humor. On leaving a corpse to the wolves, he cracks, “If he wanted a proper burial, he should have got himself killed in summer.” All the details are right in this redo: the fat hot links dangling over Cogburn’s bed, a very funny gallows scene, Roger Deakins’ austere cinematography. But there’s a sense that the Coens have missed the meat for the sausages. These small pleasures linger, yet the big ideas about revenge and justice go untapped. Mattie’s tough, but is Mattie right? Elsewhere in the Bible, the law argues an eye for an eye. But as Cogburn doesn’t have an eye to spare, the movie needs to ask if their death quest is worth the risk.

Click here for True Grit in the IE Weekly

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