DVD of the Week – The Singular Heroine of True Grit (2010)

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

13 responses to “DVD of the Week – The Singular Heroine of True Grit (2010)

  1. Richard Winters

    So, how does this one compare to the original? I saw the John Wayne version and loved it, but I didn’t see this one as I am not too keen on remakes of films that were already excellent the first time. I’ve heard from people, and I think Nir was one of them, who told me that this version is not as good.

  2. I thought is was the rare exception to the norm: Overall as good as the original, with some parts better. For example, the Leboef scenes with Matt Damon are a lot better than those with Glen Campbell. That’s just a fact.

    • Richard Winters

      I would agree with you on the Leboef scenes even without having seen the picture simply because Matt Damon is hands down a better actor than Glen Campbell. Glen is a good singer, but has no clue as an actor. Infact the casting of Glen Campbell was one of the biggest complaints about the movie when it was released.

  3. It’s true that I’m not a fan of this remake mainely because the Coens claims to have readapted the source novel instead of remaking the original film. I call them half liers because even though they took out all of the fun and adventurous spirit of the original and made this into a different looking and feeling film, they shot this film almot shot for shot the same. It was rather unnerving watching the original and then the remake back to back and noticing that it’s the same bloody movie.

    That having been said, Hailee Steinfeld gives a terrific performance in this film and so does Matt Damon. I liked Barry Pepper (as Ned Pepper, a nice touch) and Josh Brolin,who were in the film for 10 minutes and hated Bridges’ performance because he was mumbiing incoherently throughout the film. I find this to be a a nice looking film but one that is slow, dull (except for the occasional Deadwood inspired dialogue), riddled with bad editing (tons of continuity problems), and overall, I just don’t find it to be a fun experience.

    I don’t see why this remake actually exists, seeing that it’s so darn similar to the original classic, and I don’t know why the Coens thought that Bridges could deliver a performence on par or greater than John Wayne’s Oscar winning performance. I like Bridges in every film that he’s in except for this one.

    But hey, that’s just me and most critics in North America think that this is one of 2010’s ten best films. It has a score of 96% on rottentomatoes and a score of 8/10 on IMDB so I must be terribly mistaken. I don’t know specifically why the existence of this film angers me and I can honestly say that that’s never happened before. Looks like I’m going to have to rewatch this film again and soon.

    Helen, why do you and the rest of the world love this film so much? I need to know. :O)

    • “Everything about Mattie” was reason enough for a positive review. I also liked the Fordian soundtrack that established the period setting and underlay the drama and the gorgeous cinematography. All of the performances were excellent (Rooster does mumble a lot but I didn’t find him unintelligible aside from a few places where he was supposed to be, because dead drunk or too far away from Mattie for her- and therefore us- to be able to make out what he was saying). I was emotionally engaged, in a way that is new to me in a Coen brothers film. The stark clarity of the film’s moral universe where everything has a cost, and the ramifications of that truth in Mattie and the other characters’ lives, was very powerful.

      • I suppose. So I guess that watching it back to back with the original was a bad idea because of how similar the two films are.

        • That I agree with on general principle. I need some space between two versions of the same story if I’m going to be able to enjoy whichever version I’m watching second, whatever the respective merits might be. It’s like what you said the other day in the comic book movie thread about having the images from the movie overlaying your experience of the comic. I end up looking for differences instead of watching the movie.

          That said, there’s no movie everyone is going to like. We all have our own answer to the “What movie do you not get the appeal of that everyone else seems to love” discussion topic.

  4. Well, I’ve just revisited True Grit (2010) on blu-ray and it’s a darn nice looking film; the HD treatment is also beautiful to behold. I like the film a lot more now but something new irks me: the perofrmances seem much more like rehersals than actual dramatic performances and the two best performances in the film belong to Josh Brolin and Barry Pepper.
    I made sure to watch the flm with the subtitles turned on and noticed that most of Rooster Cogburn’s diaogue, on my first viewing went entirely passed me. He was now telling interesting stories about his past and present, speaking about funny things, and constabtly cracking jokes and making fun of LaBeouf. His character, once again is the most interesting character in the film and Bridges ruind that aspect. So I recommend to anyone watching the film: please watch it with the subtitles turned on throughout.

    And yes, Deadwood’s actors delivered the langage MUCH better than the actors in this film. Orignally I had a 2 star, virtual rating in my mind but it’s now 3. In case anyone was wondering.

    • I’m glad to hear it improved on further acquaintance. You’re not the only person who’s told me they couldn’t make out Rooster’s dialogue so watching it subtitled is a good suggestion.

      • It baffles me that Jeff Bridges was Oscar nominated for that huge misstep and Robert Duvall, for Get Low, wasn’t. But, whatever. They’re just Oscars. :O)

  5. I am about to rewatch True Grit tonight as I just got the DVD from Netflix but I was a little underwhelmed after seeing in theater 6 months ago. It didn’t feel much like a Cohen movie of all things.

    • I liked the change in tone from prior Coens’ films. Straightforward dramatic engagement in place of ironic detachment was right for the story.

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