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True Grit: As Funny as It Is Gritty

by Zach Oat December 22, 2010 6:00 am
<i>True Grit</i>: As Funny as It Is Gritty

Like all Coen Brothers movies, True Grit is a solemn blend of comedy and murder, populated by more quirky, funny characters than you can fit in a woodchipper. Obviously, each of their movies is a unique snowflake, and has a slightly heavier balance of one than the other, but it's amazing how they consistently manage to deliver a similar mix of subject matter, or, rather, are drawn to material that has that mix. You could call it formulaic, but when the formula is so delicious, and you drink a big glass of it every time it's put in front of you, all you're doing is calling yourself a big baby. I must be such a baby.

It's hard to say who is funnier in the movie. It could be Jeff Bridges as Marshall Rooster Cogburn, who speaks like he has a constant frog in his throat, drinks like a fish and gets easily flustered under cross-examination, whether it's by a lawyer in court or a 14-year-old girl. He also has no tolerance for children who torture animals, and will literally kick them off a porch as soon as look at them. It could be Mattie Ross, expertly played by Hailee Steinfeld, who, at 14, can manipulate and negotiate with anyone, as long as that person is ultimately afraid of lawyers, because that's her ace in the hole. It could be LaBoeuf the Texas Ranger, whom Matt Damon plays as a tassled, self-righteous buffoon who constantly speaks of the Rangers' perseverance, and then bites his tongue nearly in half partway through the movie, causing him to speak with a lisp for the remainder. Hell, it could be the villain of the piece, Tom Chaney, who looks menacing in pictures (of a glowering Josh Brolin), but in reality is a complete imbecile, albeit a murderous one.

All four have laugh-out-loud dialogue throughout their scenes, but all four are also killers. Cogburn shoots at will, at the drawing as well as the fleeing, is quick with an ambush and leaves a trail of bodies in his wake. Mattie seems like she's all talk, but the first time her gun leaves its sack, she pulls the trigger. Chaney is like a dumb animal, who only knows that someone is an enemy. Only LaBoeuf seems unwilling to shoot unless absolutely necessary, a trait that makes him more sympathetic as the movie progresses, along with the tongue thing. Cogburn, meanwhile, becomes less of a softie, and more of the death-dealer others make him out to be, even as you get the sense that he takes no joy in it. In their hunt for Chaney, the trio part, then rejoin, then shift alliances, but they all play a part in apprehending him.

The rest of the players are simple, rustic folk, even the criminals Cogburn must kill. Barry Pepper appears late in the film as one Lucky Ned Pepper -- I refuse to believe that his name alone didn't earn him the phone call -- and even he seems vaguely honorable, or at least regretful of how violent his outlaw existence can be. For a minute, it seems like there'll be a peaceful resolution, but we all know the film will end in a pool of blood. Because God bless the Coen brothers.

Check out this interview with True Grit's breakout star, Hailee Steinfeld.

Did you see True Grit? Let us know what you thought below, then check out our gallery of the greatest movie eyepatches! And read more reviews here!

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