True Grit: A Review

Two weeks ago I wrote a review of Voyage
of the Dawn Treader
and so many of you read it
that I figured I would try to review every movie I get to see in
theaters. Jess and I were blessed enough to get a few movie tickets
for Christmas and we used them on Monday to go see the new Cohen
brothers’ film, True Grit.
True Grit is the story of a 14 year-old girl
named Maddie Ross who sets out to bring to justice the man who
killed her father. She hires a hard-drinking U.S. Marshall with a
penchant for violence named Rooster Cogburn to track down the
murderer and bring him in. The story is adapted from a novel
by Charles Portis
of the same name. It is not a remake of
the classic John
Wayne film
for which the Duke won his one and only Oscar.
It is simply adapted from the same book. Much of the criticism
about this recent version comes from people who think that the
movie is a remake of the original film, but that’s like criticizing
theRussell Crowe’s Robin Hood film for being a remake of the Kevin
Costner version, rather than criticizing it for just being a
mediocre movie. “The wicked flee when no one pursues” – Proverbs
These words begin our story and form the basis of
its simple and powerful theme. True Grit is
not about revenge. It’s about justice. Rather than setting out to
avenge the death of her father, Maddie is concerned with bringing
her father’s killer to justice, preferably by trial and conviction.
(Though she does not rule out other options.) This is a welcomed
theme in a world that is so accustomed to seeing films about
revenge. This idea that we have the right to take from someone
simply because they have taken from us is not a Biblical one, in
fact it is antithetical to what God said in Deuteronomy
, “Vengeance is mine.” Justice, however, the idea
that a man must pay for his sins, is clear in Scripture. God is
infinitely concerned with sin being punished. This is why sending
Jesus to pay for sin was so important. If God simply said to us, “I
forgive you” without also dealing with sin, He would not be just or
loving, but in pouring out His wrath against sin on Jesus He showed
His love and justice by becoming “just and the justifier of the one
who has faith in Jesus.” (Romans
) And though, through faith in Christ, one can avoid
eternal justice, Scripture is also clear that those who break the
laws of men should be brought to justice by men. True
handles this theme well and never becomes a film
about revenge. The sub-theme of the movie is the relationship
between Rooster, Laboeuf (a Texas Ranger after the same man for
other crimes), and Maddie. Having lost her father, young Maddie is
in need of a father figure, and though terribly flawed, both men
serve to fill that role in different ways (and without being
creepy). It’s a subtle piece of the movie, but by the end, you have
no doubt that the growth we see in Maddie is due to the influence
of these two men in her life. To say that the movie is visually
beautiful would be something of an understatement. The Cohen
brothers captured the wild landscape with such precision that
nearly every third shot in the film is breathtaking. Truly. The
western genre can get stale. The eyes can only take so much tan,
but True Grit is filled with so much life in
every shot that it would almost be worth watching without words.
The only failing in this regard is a very important scene toward
the end of the film where a cheesy “blue screen” effect is used. It
may have been an homage to the original film, but blue screen shots
have never looked real, even back then. It’s true that the visuals
are nearly good enough to watch without dialogue, but you wouldn’t
want to do that with this movie. The script is top-notch, really
brilliantly done. A fast talking western is an unusual thing, but
it works so well and adds to the freshness of feel that the whole
movie has. The
script may be great, and the scenery may be beautiful, but the
actors really shine. Every part, big and small is cast perfectly
and fun to watch. Jeff Bridges who plays Rooster is so diverse as
an actor that he can do just about anything, but he has perfected
the grizzled old man for this generation. Matt Damon is great as
the pompous but sincere LaBoeuf. He also delivers the biggest and
most consistent laughs throughout the film. Josh Brolin is
unexpectedly good as the murderous and weaselly Tom Chaney. And
Barry Pepper is excellent in his small but important roll as
“Lucky” Ned Pepper (same last name, I know). But the real standout
is Hailee Steinfeld as Maddie Ross. I don’t know if I have ever
been more impressed with a young actress. Not only does she carry
the entire movie, but she makes it look easy. It will be a crime if
she doesn’t get nominated. (An overstatement I know, but you get
the idea). With a western it is difficult to escape the three
things that Christians dread when going to the movies. language,
sex, and violence. As for the first two, where you might expect
plenty of four-letter words and at least one trip to a brothel, you
find instead that they are refreshingly absent. The language is
minimal and the sexual content is all but non-existent. The
violence, however, is brutal and shocking, though not abundant. A
few scenes are pretty extreme by PG-13 standards. One outlaw gets
his fingers cut off, which we see from beginning to end, and
another gets shot in the face at point blank range. There are other
places as well, but I’ll spare the detail. The shock value of the
violence is what is most disturbing. I assume that it’s meant to
put the audience in the shoes of Maddie Ross who is under the
impression that a man hunt would be much like a ‘coon hunt (that’s
racoon, for the city folk). Still, there are other ways to get that
point across. Brutal violence notwithstanding, if I were to grade
the film, I would give it a solid “A”. The combination of great
story, excellent acting, perfect pacing, and beautiful photography
make it an easy winner, but the addition of minimal offensive
content really puts it over the edge in my book. It’s funny,
emotionally stirring, and engaging from beginning to end. If you
have the time, I would definitely recommend seeing it. You won’t be
disappointed. Also,
this last picture is from one of the weirdest and funniest scenes I
have seen in a long time.

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3 Responses to True Grit: A Review

  1. Hey Brother
    Thanks so much for the detailed review. I’ve been strongly considering seeing the film.
    Also, would luv to catch up with you. Hope that your Christmas season was filled with sweet fellowship with the Holy Spirit.

    God bless my friend

  2. Mom says:

    Dan & I liked the film very much for all the reasons you mention. The shock value of the violence is heightened because it is a reality film, those events do not go down with the soda as easy as in-over-the top action or other-worldly film genres where you don’t necessarily place yourself in the scene with the characters. This has the effect of re-sensitizing the audience to the predicaments and consequences of “action”. And while other movies make grandiose attempts at being relevant or affecting, it is accomplished here by the simple telling of the tale – while keeping us engaged in Maddie’s noble mission from beginning to end.

  3. CMrok93 says:

    The old-school American western was not dead, it seems. It was just playing possum, waiting for the Coens to come along and rouse it. Nice Review, check out mine when you can!

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