Let us already take for granted the following declarations from the Coen Brother’s re-imagining of the Charles Portis novel, True Grit: Jeff Bridges can pull off the Duke just as easily as rolling as the Dude; the Coen’s steady camera work equally showcases cast and scenery allowing both to become larger-than-life when so needed, from Rooster’s courtroom verbal brawl and the perfectly non-CG enhanced frontier town providing examples; and newcomer Hailee Steinfeld steals the show with her own grit.
Moving forward, then, it is the themes of the film that perhaps become as intriguing as the story, straightforward as films seeking justice, revenge or the thin line between both, are.
The 2003 Costner-directed Western, Open Range, was a masculine film in every sense of the word. Two, rough-and-tumble, cowboy vets and best friends, played by Robert Duval and the aforementioned Kevin Costner, drive cattle, share a campfire and a lot of silence; silence and the open air that only a man can truly enjoy. When Annette Bening enters the story, her feminine presence intrudes, not as a mere filly, but as an active participant in the on-going story. The result is a grand Western with slightly modernized ideals.
Similar events transpire in True Grit. Although by no means friends, partners, and arguably even contemporaries, Bridges’ Rooster Cogburn and Matt Damon’s Texas Ranger LaBeouf are nearly cartoon caricatures representing mainstays of the Old West. Where Rooster is an old drunk, limping and relying on instinct and experience, LaBeouf hangs his hat on the respectability and tradition of the Texas Rangers, allowing that name to proceed his own, as well as his talent in most instances.
The female that enters this twosome is 14-year-old Mattie Ross, who is keen on, and expecting, justice to be meted out for the wrongful death of her dear daddy. Instead of the cliché teenage Disney-fied, or more recently Nickelodeon-ed, spunk, Steinfeld instead calls the bluff of her elders. She represents the new law of the time and offers reason. She seeks justice and is determined to uphold such, that is, until she meets the wanted man in question and finds a sizable rifle in the palms of her innocent hands.
The end result, other than the simple answer to see if law and order triumphs over injustice, is determining who has true grit, this unshakable belief in your own infallibility. In the film, Mattie tells Rooster that he has true grit, perhaps from his legend alone. And it is the legend of this own story, the immortality of Rooster, LaBeouf and Mattie herself, that makes audiences introspect their own resolve.
The Coens did not necessarily want a re-make, but perhaps a wake-up, or a remember when, or a challenge, to find your own true grit.