The Oscars “Best Picture” candidates: True Grit

Jack Braunstein ('13)/Eastside underground editor

True Grit is the closest the Coen Brothers will ever get to directing a Disney movie. The film is an inspiring, heartwarming tale of justice and independence. There is a loveable heroine. She has oddball sidekicks. They go on a quest. They hit a few humorous speed bumps. But don’t forget, this is still a Coen Brothers movie. A Coen Brothers western at that. In other words, that heartwarming tale is speckled with random outbursts of brutal violence. Our heroine is a 14-year-old girl swearing vengeance against the unjust murder of her father. Her oddball sidekicks are a mangled bounty hunter and an uppity Texas Ranger. Their quest is soaked in the blood of bandits and criminals. And the humorous speed bumps come as hangings and alcoholism.

Originally a novel by Charles Portis, True Grit first hit the silver screen in 1969.  The Coen Brothers have dabbled in remakes before, but their real talent lays in emulating a classic film era, rather than adding a noir touch to someone else’s script. But True Grit is a really enjoyable film. The lines are witty, (thanks, Portis) the cinematography is pretty and the acting is mostly spot on. Major cudos to casting director Ellen Chenoweth on the find of newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, who immaculately fills the roll of our stubborn heroine, Mattie Ross. She deadpans the western dialogue like it was written for her. If anyone deserves this year’s supporting actress, it’s this young actress.

Jeff Bridges plays Rooster Cogburn, the patch-eyed drunkard of a U.S. Marshall that leads her on the hunt for justice. That’s the same role that the legendary Hollywood cowboy—John Wayne—won his only Oscar Award for in his entire career. The Academy nominated the new Rooster for Best Actor, but it is highly unlikely we’ll see him take the same award the Duke did in ’69. It is hard to pinpoint Bridge’s best line in the film; it must be a dead tie between “mumble mumble shout” and “grunt, chuckle, shout.” Seriously though, what is the man saying? Bridges puts way too much effort to distance himself from Wayne’s portrayal with a gruffer, more slurred character, so much so that he becomes basically unintelligible for about 65 percent of the movie.

But all the dialogue that can be heard is sterling, especially the chest-puffing quick wit battles of esteem with Matt Damon, who comically plays Texas Ranger Laboeuf. Pronounced “La Beef,” Damon’s character is a perfect foil to Bridges’ rough slob. He is arrogant, prissy and searching for the same man. The funniest moments of the film involve Laboef’s speech impediment from biting off his tongue in shootout.

When it comes down to it, True Grit is a good movie. But will there be a best picture Golden Man on the Coen’s shelf next to the one for No Country for Old Men by Monday morning? Most likely not. The Academy wouldn’t do anything that might offend John Wayne. That dude commands respect, even from the grave.