It’s not easy for a 14-year-old girl to steal a movie that stars Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Barry Pepper and Josh Brolin, but Hailee Steinfield’s Mattie basically did. Don’t get me wrong, the performances were all dead on, but Steinfield held every scene she was in. Not many young actors can do that. And being that she filmed this role when she was a whopping 13-years-old is absolutely amazing. Have we seen that since Tatum O’Neal or Anna Paquin?
I don’t think so.
How many times in recent years have we been offered a movie that the lead,Mattie, is a feminist. And in 1877, mind you.
Spoilers after the jump. And when I mean spoilers, I MEAN SPOILERS!
I liked this movie. I liked it a lot. Jeff Bridges is always magnificent whether he is playing the Dude or the Duke. Brolin’s first meeting with Mattie at a creek bed is one of those scenes that reminded me how good he is. He is maybe on screen for ten minutes, but he owned the role of Tom Chaney. Although he doesn’t have the marquee standing of Bridges and Damon yet, it’s just a matter of time. I mean seriously, he was incredible in Planet Terror and his dimwitted murderer just shooting the shit with the revenge-blinded Mattie was exquisite. He went from a very simple buffoon to a murderous, alienated madman in a matter of seconds. This also goes for Barry Pepper’s characterization of Lucky Ned. He chewed and gnawed on that performance, and let’s add, he was on screen for just a matter of minutes. (Let me also add that I didn’t know it was Pepper he was so hidden in the role. That is good stuff, my friends.)
I am a middle-aged feminist living in 2011. I think that is important to mention while writing this because one thing that this Coen-driven piece did was showed how a very smart young girl matter-of-factly dismantled the men around her but there was a price to pay which you will understand if you watch True Grit. I couldn’t help but be skeeved out when Damon’s character, Le Boeuf, sat in the corner of her room at the beginning of the movie where they had a very clever battle of wits. When his character mentions that he thought about stealing a kiss but instead would like to give Mattie a spanking, I sort of grossed out. I also pretty much flinched when Mattie was given a spanking by Damon’s character. At least Rooster Cogburn pulled his gun on Le Boeuf during the whipping but it took a couple of minutes before he brought the pistol out. Damon’s character, however, was not villainous in this movie. I don’t know if it was a sign of the times or if this was how social mores of women were during this time in history. This was not a sexual relationship, I want to be clear about this, but it was interesting to watch how it was presented. On top of this, Mattie’s character is called ugly more than once from the men around her. Of course she isn’t ugly, but I found the words were meant to contain her spirit. That, my friends, hasn’t changed in the 240 odd years between then and now. Words as weapons. Sometimes it works. In the fictional case of Mattie, they did not. And as for her being educated, it is obviously she was, although I know on a side-note that the word “uneducated” can also be a hammer to the head when used in certain circumstances, but that is splitting hairs in this review.
This is also not a feel good movie with a very tied-up happy ending. The first True Grit did have a more pleasant, aww shucks ending although Le Boeuf’s fate was different (so weird that the character was originally played by Glen Campbell). In this latest adaptation, the ending was as matter-of-fact as Mattie’s character. She wasn’t presented as the tomboy that Kim Darby’s Mattie was, just a young girl in braids. I think that is worth mentioning.
The movie is tied together with the feminist consciousness of the lead. You don’t see that very often.
No star system or thumb up from me as I am no movie reviewer, but I do recommend going to see True Grit.