True Grit (2010)

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Entertainment: +4

Content: -3

Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper, Hailee Steinfeld. Western. Written & directed by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen.

FILM SYNOPSIS: Fourteen-year-old Mattie Ross's (Hailee Steinfeld) father has been shot in cold blood by the coward Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), and she is determined to bring him to justice. Enlisting the help of a trigger-happy, drunken U.S. Marshal, Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), she sets out with him -- over his objections -- to hunt down Chaney. Her father's blood demands that she pursue the criminal into Indian territory and find him before a Texas Ranger named LeBoeuf (Matt Damon) catches him and brings him back to Texas for the murder of another man.

PREVEIW REVIEW: Well, those of you who know me are well aware that I am an unabashed John Wayne fan (see best of Duke Wayne films at end of review), so messing with his Oscar winner caused more than a raised eyebrow when I first learned of what might be sacrilege. And when I mentioned the Coen brothers remaking True Grit to some Texas boys during a recent visit to San Antonio, well, they expressed their feelings succinctly, in one word (think barnyard). But I must admit, it’s actually a very good film, except for Rooster profaning God’s name four times.

Author Charles Portis infused his novel (yes, I read it) with a colloquial jargon where no one used contractions, the dialogue being formal, yet concise and pithy. This style was effectively used in the 1969 screen production, making it stand out from period pieces containing anachronistic wordage. The Coen brothers pay the same homage to the story’s creator, but their film’s tone is somewhat darker (like the book) than the original film. I suspect today’s moviegoers will be more accepting of the excessive violence – and of Rooster Cogburn profaning God’s name four times.

Gone is the inept performance of Glen Campbell, but then so is the delightful score by Elmer Bernstein. (Bernstein’s Rooster Cogburn theme perfectly reflected the stature of Wayne’s persona and his tongue-in-cheek interpretation of Portis’ crusty, one-eyed law man.) That said, the score in the new adaptation, supported by the well-orchestrated hymn Leaning On the Everlasting Arms, is a thoughtful and grand replacement, making it one of the best film scores from this past year.

Other positives: the costume and art design and the lighting and cinematography are exceptional; Hailee Steinfeld is pitch-perfect as Mattie; Matt Damon balances his portrayal of LeBoeuf beautifully as a not-so-bright but good man; and although the film is violent, Mattie’s Christian faith is made clear on several occasions; the picture opens with a Bible verse (“The wicked flee when no man pursueth” Proverbs 28:1), reminding viewers that while there are godless characters running around, the time represented was one wherein the Christian faith was promoted in family life. People showed reverence for God and read the Bible. If you should suggest, “Hey, they had nothing else to do in the evenings,” my retort would be, “Maybe they were better off.”

The Coens have given us a solid western, perhaps the best of this past decade. But darn it, Rooster profanes God’s name four times. In nearly two hundred films, John Wayne never showed irreverence toward the Creator or our Savior, not even as Rooster in his True Grit. Back in 1969, we fans would’ve been disappointed to hear him do so. Sadly, I can’t name a major star from this generation who hasn’t profaned God’s name or uttered “Christ” as a mere expletive on screen. Most, like Jeff Bridges, have done so frequently.

John Wayne, actor: True, no one made more dreadful films (Rio Lobo, The Conqueror, Jet Pilot), but on the other hand, few have given us any more entertaining pictures than The Quiet Man, The Searchers, Red River, Rio Bravo, The Cowboys, Stagecoach, Angel and the Badman, Sands of Iwo Jima, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, In Harm’s Way, How The West Was Won, The Comancheros, The Longest Day, The War Wagon, She Wore A Yellow Ribbon, Hondo, and The Shootist. Caution: if you should view The Cowboys, beware, it has some objectionable language during one scene where a boy gets mad at Wayne’s character and repeats a profane phrase. Wayne allows the boy to continue his tirade as it is causing the lad to defeat his stutter. Having cured the kid, Wayne walks off, muttering, “I wouldn’t make a habit of calling me that.” Perfect. He was perfect!

My dad is my real life hero, but John Wayne was and is my screen champion. If you have the time, clink on the link for a detailed look at my impression of that Mount Rushmore of movie stars.

Preview Reviewer: Phil Boatwright
Paramount Pictures

The following categories contain objective listings of film content which contribute to the subjective numeric Content ratings posted to the left and on the Home page.

Crude Language: None

Obscene Language: Three obscenities and a couple of minor expletives, a few obscenities, including Rooster’s famous line, “Fill your hand…”

Profanity: Rooster profanes God’s name four times.

Violence: There’s a scene in the original True Grit where a man gets his fingers chopped off and the dirty-deed-doer then stabs him, Rooster then shooting him. It’s a pretty intense sequence. It’s even more violent and graphic here, with a close-up of the chopped-off fingers and a bullet hole graphically depicted in the head of the villain, his blood splattered on the wall and the onlookers. We see hangings, one where a vulture is biting away at the corpse. We’ve come a long way, becoming a society can not only able to take more excess in our movie content – but coming to expect it.

Sex: None

Nudity: None

Sexual Dialogue/Gesture: None

Drugs: Rooster is a hard drinker.

Other: None

Running Time: 100 minutes
Intended Audience: Teens and Up

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