True Grit

“The wicked flee when no one pursueth.”

“The gunfight is in the head not in the hands.”

I have thought of writing this post through the usual prism of politics, but then decided against it. The story is an apolitical narrative about, well, balls.

As a society we love to wallow in feel-good, soul-searching, navel gazing movies that it was about time for a Coen brothers-administered shot of some reality-based western drama.

You know how much I love to explore American history.  Turns out I’m not the only pampered Manhattan resident with the secret Wild West fascination. Coen brothers, whose Big Lebowski is listed among my favorites, seem to share the same fetish (No Country for Old Men and now True Grit). True Grit delivers. Wild West justice was on full display with lovingly nuanced approach that the brothers crafted, unexpectedly noir free. It’s a simple, straightforward story of grit, balls that are in the head, not between the legs. The scene of the little girl fording the river must be a tutorial for all in an era of indecision. Moments like this are with us every day, nothing is different but physical surroundings. What matters is your mental ability, whether you a frail 14-year old girl or a hardened Marshall (unparalleled Jeff Bridges). Jeff Bridges can work magic – he was a natural as a troubled country singer in last year’s Crazy Heart and seems like he brought the same traits on the set of True Grit. Including the whiskey bottle and Southern drawl. He nonchalantly captures this western spirit in both movies. Just as Coen brothers capture the essence of bravery.

The young actress who played the girl, Hailee Steinfeld is also 14 years old, but I’d say is just as mature and fearless as her character requires.

With my plebeian tastes, and despite a few high brow existential movies on my favorites list (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) I was always a secret fan of simple good guys vs. bad guys narratives. I like Star Wars and Lord of the Rings trilogy. I admit – westerns are my occasional guilty pleasure. But not all westerns. I don’t think I’ve seen any John Wayne movies. I don’t watch westerns for the story that is usually very straightforward, but for the characters and the clichés, like a stranger riding into town, a full-screen shot of a gunfighter’s nervous hand milliseconds away from drawing a gun, a mandatory drunk flying through the swinging saloon doors, a smart and imposing villain, a protagonist with a rocky past. The Quick and The Dead for example has all that and the superb cast (Gene Hackman as perfect villain, very young but very talented Leo, Russell Crowe as a reformed priest)

I guess what makes a good western is the main character who’s fallible: A drunk (True Grit), a bank robber (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), a cold blooded maniac (No Country for Old Men), The Good, The Bad, The Ugly. We can be certain those characters don’t lead healthy lives that’s why we love them. Compare those characters with, say, Walker Texas Ranger where sterilized and vice-free Chuck Norris manifests his black and white societal aspirations.

I was disappointed this movie wasn’t nominated for the Golden Globes. I guess it’s a bad sign for the Oscars. They got one for No Country and Jeff Bridges got one for Crazy Heart. Somebody must have decided they already got enough.

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