Jake has apparently never been shy about bringing us remakes of classic westerns – his very first film was the 2007 remake of 3:10 to Yuma, and now he has brought us the Coen brothers‘ 2010 remake of True Grit. Not that I’m complaining – both turned out to be excellent films. And since there wasn’t a short this week, we can get right to the movie!
The movie starts with 14-year-old Mattie Ross alone in Fort Smith Arkansas, out on the frontier of Indian Country (that is, eastern Oklahoma), trying to settle her father’s affairs following his murder by the outlaw Tom Chaney.
Naturally, part of what she’s looking for is justice. Unfortunately, local law enforcement isn’t much help seeing as Chaney has fled with Ned Pepper and his criminal gang into Indian Territory, but she is directed towards three possible U.S. Marshals who might, for the right price, attempt to track him down.
Mattie selects perhaps the least likely of them all, the one-eyed drunkard Rooster Cogburn because he’s the meanest. She shows her chops in raising a hefty bounty for Cogburn by aggressively trading with (and threatening to sue) a merchant who had probably taken a bit of advantage of her father. Cogburn finally accepts her offer, but when Mattie insists on coming with him he demurs and puts off leaving until the next morning.
Naturally, by the time she shows up the next morning Cogburn has left without her, having hooked up instead with a Texas Ranger by name of LaBoeuf who is also after Chaney for a murder committed in the Lone Star state. Undeterred, Mattie chases them down, catching them as she has her pony swim a river where the ferryman has been instructed to refuse her passage. LaBoeuf is, shall we say, reluctant to bring her along but Cogburn finally relents and Mattie is part of the adventure.
Shortly thereafter LaBoeuf splits off following an argument, only to be rescued from a Ned Pepper ambush by Cogburn and Mattie, only to leave again on better terms as the group loses hope of ever catching up with Chaney and Pepper. Cogburn himself has despaired of ever catching up when Mattie, having gone off alone to draw water from a river, bumps straight into none other than Mr. Speak Of The Devil himself, and she gets the draw on him.
Chaney figures Mattie doesn’t have the chutzpah to shoot him, but he’s (almost) dead wrong. Unfortunately she only wings him and Chaney is able to capture her and bring her captive to Pepper.
Pepper is perhaps less than enthusiastic about mishandling Mattie, but given that he’s also got a U.S. Marshal right on his tail, he threatens her life in order to get Cogburn to abandon her. Cogburn complies, but you have to know that one is not exactly going to last. Being short a horse, Pepper leaves the slightly wounded Chaney behind with Mattie, ordering him to not harm her before Pepper can return with a remount. Chaney, however, is not exactly going to be following those orders, and luckily for Mattie, LaBoeuf (having met up once again with Cogburn and hatched a plan with him) shows up just in time to cold-cock him.
Meanwhile, a solo Cogburn faces down Pepper and the remainder of his gang in a valley down below the cliff they are perched on, and LaBoeuf pulls off a 400-yard rifle shot at a crucial moment to kill Pepper and save Cogburn. But Chaney comes to, knocks out LaBoeuf, and Mattie grabbing LaBoeuf’s gun utters the movie’s famous final line – “Stand up, Tom Chaney!” – as she exacts justice on her father’s killer, blasting him off the cliff with one shot to the chest. The End.
I guess it wasn’t really the end, but it probably should have been. Instead, the recoil knocks Mattie down a pit, she gets bit by a rattlesnake, and Cogburn in a desperate ride and at the expense of her horse’s life gets her to a doctor in time to save her life, though not her arm. Then, they never meet again, though many years later she tries to catch up with him at a traveling wild west show he is working for, but unfortunately he dies a few days before she arrives. That’s the “real” end, but it’s almost 100% unsatisfying. Everything after she shoots Tom Chaney (and we’re talking about 5-10 minutes of movie) is completely unnecessary and kind of detracts from what would have otherwise been a fantastic ending to a fantastic film. So, in a way, I suppose that it’s the final episode of Battlestar Galactica all over again: once that moment happens where you can finally say, “OK, this can end right here and I’d be happy” – turn it off. This movie wouldn’t want you to remember it like that.
But other than that misstep of an ending, it’s a great film all the way through. I like the acting quite a bit, though I did wish that Bridges effected a bit gentler slurring of his voice because from time to time I didn’t know what he said. The scenery and cinematography was awesome, the script was great (though it surely had a tried and true base to work from), and the atmosphere was perfect. I’m not a huge fan of westerns – I think a lot of it is that the “oater” is not really my kind of film. But let me tell you, these modern, tightly plotted, healthily budgeted, Hollywood-casted westerns basically have never disappointed me. Who knew?