After her father is murdered by one of his employees, Mattie Ross engages a deputy U.S. Marshal to track down the killer. She’s given three recommendations, but chooses Rooster Cogburn because she hears he’s a man with “true grit”. Meanwhile, Texas Ranger La Beouf is pursuing the same man for a shooting of a senator in another state.
True Grit is one of my personal favourite films of 2010 – meticulously crafted, sweeping cinematography and like the Coen Brothers previous work, there’s plenty of humourous dialogue sprinkled throughout. Every situation reveals something about the central characters, and this is crucial in understanding the film’s themes of faith, revenge, and of course true grit.
From the opening frames of the film, faith is prominent: from the verse from the book of Proverbs, to the light streaming through the front door of the house onto her father’s body, to Mattie’s declaration that there is nothing free except the grace of God.
As Mattie sets out to bring the killer to justice, she believes her cause to be a righteous one. The opening verse “The wicked flee when no one pursues” (Proverbs 28:1) would be ringing in her mind, as it should in ours. The author of her faith (Hebrews 12:2), she writes, watches over her. The soundtrack throughout underscores her faith, prominently featuring old hymns, in particular Leaning on the Everlasting Arms, based on Deutoronomy 33:27: “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” Interestingly, the second part of the verse says: “He will drive out your enemies before you, saying, ‘Destroy them!’”.
As the adventure unfolds we meet Rooster Cogburn – memorably played by Jeff Bridges – the man described as having “true grit”. He thinks of himself as an instrument of wrath, and he’s a tough no-nonsense guy. He’s a deputy marshal who enjoys taking out the trash – as we learn in one memorable court scene. He’s also an alcoholic, and at times we’re left wondering whether Cogburn has any spirit apart from the bottled variety.
And then there’s La Boeuf, played by Matt Damon, whose identity rests in a uniform – a Texas Ranger (and a proud one), sporting a badge, spurs and a quick tongue, and one whom Cogburn delights in taunting. Their frequent sparring threatens to derail the pursuit, and after LaBeouf leaves declaring the manhunt a ‘debauch’ on account of Cogburn’s drinking – and that the marshal has nothing to offer – Mattie finds herself face to face with the killer.
Despite these setbacks, Mattie’s indomitable spirit – her grit – has brought her to Chaney but can she avenge her father’s death, and find the justice she seeks?
We’ll go deeper in Part Two.