This is not a movie review, it's recap and a reaction (and spoilers will abound). I admit I’ve never seen the original version of True Grit all the way through, though I have seen Roster Cogburn (mostly because Katherine Hepburn was in it)
I’ve never read the book, but after seeing the new movie with Jeff Bridges, Haliee Steinfeld, Matt Damon and Josh Brolin, I think I have to. I suspect that I will love it. I have just recently listened to the unabridged audio book, and as it was excellent I'm sure the book will be likewise.
True Grit is a coming of age story; Mattie is too smart to be completely "innocent” but she is naive and a bit unsure (if determined). At the end of the film she will be free from illusions and have a good idea of her own powers
A fiercely intelligent 14 year old girl who has just lost her father to violence, who has come to a strange town, with limited resources to take care of business, is a riveting narrator. Her mother is overcome by grief, her little brother is too young to seek vengeance, and it is clear that no one in that town, in which her father was a near stranger, is going to do much about his death. So she will.
The townsfolk treat her with the wary courtesy reserved for grief stricken children with strange ideas (even children who are sharp horse traders) The sheriff, happy to be free of the responsibility of chasing her father’s killer since he’s fled into Indian Territory, does suggest that the US Marshall’s might be amenable to an extra "reward", as well as regular pay and gives her a list of the best, one is a great tracker, another is mean and double tough, but likes to pull the cork and another has a good heart, is a lay preacher, brings his men in alive and is not above letting them go... if he thinks they might find salvation, indeed he is the best Marshall
Mattie asks him to point out the mean one, Marshall Cogburn. She finds him giving testimony in court and we confirm that he is mean and double tough and isn't particularly fussed with the idea of fairness when confronting people he suspects will try and kill him to make good their escape.
Cogburn is not too impressed with the child, not believing in her reward story, and Mattie is forced to wait for her funds to catch up with her. In the mean time she is confronted, in her bedroom, by a handsome man who is staying at the same boarding house she is.
He is a Texas ranger leBoufie (pronounced Lebeef) on the track of Cheney, he is almost as handsome as he is full of himself and he's put off by this slip of a girl who calmly points out LeBeef has been on Cheney's trail for months and had he done his job properly her father would still be alive, nor is she sanguine about the idea that Cheney will hang in Texas, for crimes that started with shooting a dog (and ended with the shooting of a state senator and a hefty reward attached). Mattie’s idea of justice is specific. She wants him hung in Fort Smyth Arkansas for the murder of her father, she doesn't care if it's going to mess up LeBeef (or later Cogburn's) pay scale.
Cogburn is nearly as put out with Mattie as she is with LeBeef when she insists that she's going with him, ostensibly to make sure he doesn't drink the half of the reward money she paid up front. Cogburn gives in only to try and pull a fast one, but Mattie pursues, showing her own stock of "sand" to catch up.
LeBeef, enraged pulls the girl off her horse and whips her. Mattie angry and defiant asks Rooster if he's going to stand for this? It's a good question to put to Rooster, he does not want Mattie along, but he knows a thing or two about people with grit and he orders LeBeef to leave the kid be, she's coming along.
LeBeef ignores the Marshall and continues beating the girl until Rooster throws down, promising to shoot him if he carries on. He's deadly serious and it's at that point I think that Mattie and I both fall a little in love with him.
NOT in the romantic sense. There is nothing romantic about Rooster Cogburn, who’s a filthy drunken man of low morals, but he is someone you'd dearly love to have at your back when the hammer hits the nail, the archetypal anti-hero, who is a hero only when things are at their worst, the rest of the time he's a mean old skunk.
Actually he's a mean old skunk when he's hero-ing too, but if he's on your side of the scrap he's a great comfort.
Their adventures continue, sometimes with LeBeef, sometimes without him (which is very different from the book, where he continues to travel with them throughout) Rooster makes what use he can of Mattie, being, as he tells her too old and fat to climb trees and she's young and light enough to walk on the roof of a dugout and smother the chimney. After several confrontations, long miles of riding, stories from Rooster and a relentless and failed pursuit LeBeef and Rooster part ways for good, blaming each other for losing their quarry.
LeBeef takes a very courteous leave of Mattie, thanking her for her help on the road and after she pleads with him to continue and insists that she will continue fighting with or without him or Cogburn he says that he misjudged her and offers her his hand.
The next day begins as all days on the trail must, with chores. Mattie goes to the river for water and looking across to the other bank she sees Cheney, watering horses.
What follows is a confrontation I cannot adequately describe, but it is one huge reason you should go and see this movie if you haven't. I will only say that it ends in a gunfight and Jeff Bridges showing us, with one cry, exactly how Rooster feels about Mattie.
It’s interesting to note that at no other time in the film does Rooster call Mattie by her name. She is "Girl", "Sis", "Lil Sis", and even "Baby Sister" Only at this one time, when Rooster would have been jerked out of sleep by gunfire does he call out for Mattie and his heart is in his voice.
Again, it's not romantic, but Rooster has come to like Mattie over the journey and while he accepted no responsibility for her when she joined up with him (by force). I think it would half kill him to lose her now. I say I think and that's true, Rooster is not someone whose skin we inhabit in the film, The film is told by Mattie and children who are smarter than everybody else in the room and unable to adequately hide that fact have a tendency to believe they are unlikeable and Rooster, with the exception noted above, is not demonstrative.
It is the ending where we see the true grit that Mattie spoke of and that is one of the few places where, I think, the book expresses it better, Mattie, after thinking Rooster betrayed her, learns she's entirely wrong in dramatic fashion “It was some daring move on the part of the deputy marshall, whose manliness and grit I had doubted. No grit? Rooster Cogburn, not much." he will even prove it to her again, in more dramatic fashion before the movie ends.
When Mattie asks the sheriff for a recommendation and he gives her a rundown of the best three Marshalls, he might have been giving her a list of suitors, do you want the Nice Man, The Skilled Man or the Other Man, the one your Mamma would not want you to marry, the one with all the bad habits, the one who will probably not treat you quite so well as you deserve, the one that will not hesitate to ride your favorite horse to death, and then run himself almost to death, to save you?
Mattie made the right decision. She herself has skills and is able to learn and she doesn’t really need folks to be nice to her. She’s too smart to be comfortable with kindness though courtesy is important. And she isn’t looking for a man to marry.
It must have been hard to be a smart tough and independent minded woman a hundred years ago. You were expected to marry and have children. Mattie was to be an old maid and ended up owning a bank. Again the book is better here, for while the Coens do a good job of showing what Mattie becomes the why of it eludes the camera.
Mattie the adult and Mattie the child have a couple of things in common. One is a sense that they are valued but not particularly liked. LeBeef liked her, eventually, by the time of the nightime leave-taking his respect and value for her comradeship is clear and sincere. But Mattie doesn’t hold his liking in the same regard as Roosters.