Revenge is a Snake Pit

True Grit

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Joel and Ethan’s Coen rendition of True Grit is a classic Western with the cowboys unshaven, filled with whiskey swigging gun-slinging characters who all appeared to have been beaten by the harsh environment of Arkansas in the 1870s frontier towns.

True Grit is a revenge tale with pitfalls both figurative and literal and as the old Chinese saying goes, when seeking revenge, it’s always best to dig two graves. At the centre of this Western, is Mattee Ross a determined 14 year old girl who is beset on avenging the death of her father.

Hailee Steinfeld delivers a superb performance, rightfully getting an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Ross hires Rooster Cogburn, an unsavory US Marshal who drinks too much whiskey and is not very fond of personal hygiene. Cogburn in his rough and scraggly demeanor is brilliantly portrayed by Jeff Bridges. A third character who makes up the unlikely trio of adventurers is La Boeuf, a dandified Texas Ranger, played with panache and egotism by Matt Damon, who quite frankly looks like a fellow who takes pride in his appearance.
This darkly comic journey reminiscent of the Coen brothers earlier film Oh Brother Where Art Thou? is more richly textured with symbolism and myth, complimented by beautiful cinematography by Roger Deakins. With the occasional spats of violence which as always in Coen Brothers films are swift, untimely and always shocking are tapered down in comparison to their Oscar winning masterpiece No Country for Old Men, which was drenched in the suspense of inevitable violence and pervading menace.

A Gritty Game of Rancher and Outlaw

As Westerns goes, this is not 3:10 to Yuma, James Mangold 2007 action packed gun tottering film featuring Russell Crowe and Christian Bale as the cattle rancher and captured outlaw, but True Grit is closer to a period piece, shot in sepia colours complimented with stark black costumes and musing more on the legends of the Old West as opposed to the violence that characterized the era.

True Grit is more a homage to the film genre, a respectful and beautifully directed representation of a mythical error of the Wild Frontier, where the only real law of the land was each individual’s right to seek revenge where injustice had occurred, whatever the consequences. Nominated for 10 Oscars, unfortunately True Grit was beaten at the Academy Awards by the more technically brilliant film, Inception and the popular David Fincher film, The Social Network. In the acting stakes, Hailee Steinfeld is definitely a rising star, since receiving an Oscar nomination at age 15, a testament to her talent. Of all the Oscars True Grit should have won, it should have been for cinematography which was flawless.

Besides the accolades not heaped on the latest Coen Brothers film by this past Awards season, True Grit is nevertheless a terrific film about revenge, mortality and the myth of the Wild West. Watch out for a great cameo by Barry Pepper, all disheveled and wearing sheepskin chaps as the outlaw leader Lucky Ned Pepper.

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