Monday, February 21, 2011

True Grit (2010)

“The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms. He will drive out your enemies before you, saying, ‘Destroy them.’” –Deuteronomy 33:27

The appeal of a Coen brothers’ movie, when it works, is that they are great story tellers. The bonus is that often their stories have a meaning beyond the pure pleasure of the story they are telling. Sometimes you get a well made entertaining comedy, like Raising Arizona or The Big Lebowski and sometimes you get a well made study of human nature and the world like Barton Fink or No Country for Old Men. The anomaly in True Grit is that it is one of their simply entertaining stories, an adventure comedy, but it has a serious feel to it.

Not that the story does not touch on some of the Coens' pet themes. This is a story about greed, evil and the terrible things people are capable of, but here we have a bit of a twist. True Grit is not a study of evil, but how we cope with evil. Mattie Ross is a girl with a black and white view of the world. She is on a quest for justice and she has a high view of the law. For her there is a clear right and wrong way in life. Throughout the story and her experience with Cogburn and LeBoeuf she learns that when it comes to people things are not always perfect. People can be flawed and still seek to do right.

Mattie’s musical theme in the film is the Hymn, “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.” This is the source of confidence she shows in the story—the worldview that allows her, at 14, to head out into the world to seek justice. She faces the unknown, hangings, nights with strangers and even death for company, all without fear. Her faith is not dealt with directly in the story, other than a single line: “You must pay for everything in this world, one way or another. There is nothing free except the grace of God.” One gets the impression first meeting Mattie that she is more a fan of God’s judgment than His grace. By the end of her story, we are led to believe that she has learned to look at others (a bit more) with God’s grace in mind.

However, mostly this is a story presented for our enjoyment. The language here—as with all Coen brothers’ films—is a delight to listen to. The humor that they milk out of most situations is laugh-out-loud funny. The suspense and tension in the set pieces is the sort that keeps you on the edge of your seat. The tone and technical aspects of this adaptation are in every instance better than the John Wayne adaptation. This one makes you want to check out the source material.

All in all this is a highly recommended entertainment.

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