by HELEN GEIB
Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), the 14 year old heroine of True Grit, is a singular young lady.
She is a child of the settled West. Ordinary family life, stable small town community, schoolhouse learning. Her quest takes her into unsettled country; a vestige of the old West of itinerants, outlaws, Indians, and quick-draw lawmen. It is populated by old West characters filtered through the Americana strange sensibilities of the Coen brothers. It is an unfamiliar, hostile world. Mattie should be incongruous and overwhelmed.
She isn’t out of place, and she’s more than up to the challenge. It’s not just her resolve to see justice done or her precocious intelligence. She’s quite the character herself.
There are other strong women at the center of westerns but Mattie is exceptional as a young woman who is never defined as an object of romantic or sexual interest to the male characters. She’s too young, too plain, and too strong-minded, but it’s, again, more than that. There is something in her essential character that sets her apart in determined, convention-defying independence. We aren’t surprised when we meet her as a grown woman in the coda and learn what her life has been in the intervening years. She was never going to live like other people and she was never going to care what they thought of her for it.
The character of Mattie is also notable for being a leading role that, with little adjustment, could have been written as a male part instead. It’s quite easy to imagine, in fact: enduring the hardships of frontier country while seeking justice for his murdered father under the tutelage of a grizzled gunfighter, the boy becomes a man. A familiar type de-familiarized by being re-cast as a girl by novelist Charles Portis, adapted for the screen by filmmakers adept at writing strong female characters, and interpreted by an astonishingly good Steinfeld, Mattie is a singular heroine.
True Grit is available on DVD and Blu-ray. Extras include short features on the cast, costumes, set design, and Mattie. The Blu-ray release is a Blu-ray/DVD combo with a digital copy of the film, and adds short features on the cinematography, guns, and Portis.
Other new releases this week: Another Year, Company Men, Just Go With It, Sanctum