True Grit: A Feminist Perspective

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.

13 comments for “True Grit: A Feminist Perspective

  1. January 3, 2011 at 7:09 am

    The Bear Man…

  2. January 3, 2011 at 7:23 am

    The Bear Man was awesome. I loved him.

  3. January 3, 2011 at 7:30 am

    We saw the movie and loved it too. One of the cable channels aired the original starring John Wayne the week before Christmas so we watched that and were able to compare it. The new version certainly improves on the old; the old was more a comedy, and certainly more sanitized. The feminist spirit of the character Mattie certainly comes out more in this version. My understanding is that they based this film on the book (which I haven’t read), not the John Wayne version of the film. Good move.

  4. January 3, 2011 at 7:32 am

    I am really contemplating reading the book right now. I really adored the movie as well. Mattie was fantastic.

  5. January 3, 2011 at 9:15 am

    Are you’re sure you’re doing this right? All the other feminists I know review movies with “Oooooh James Franco, I want to have his BABIES!”

    This isn’t like that at all.

    Also, I got the book for Christmas.

  6. January 3, 2011 at 9:18 am

    Who is James Franco? 😀 (I keed, I teeze.)

    Have you read the book yet? I’m interested in checking it out.

  7. January 3, 2011 at 11:26 am

    I’ve only skimmed it, having had “Night of The Iguana” at the top of my reading queue for the past week or so.

    I HAVE heard more than a few complaints about the “stilted dialogue,” which is pretty much a straight adaptation of the plainspoken tone from the book.

  8. grandefille
    January 3, 2011 at 3:50 pm

    Honey, I was grabbing folks in the foyer going, “It took ’em 50 years to make another Western right, but dern if it ain’t a FEMINIST ONE TOO!” To a one, the women laughed with joy, and the men were briefly unsettled and then reassured. Heh.


    Please forgive my enthusiasm, y’all. I spent my childhood watching Westerns with my dad, who, despite his redneck origins, patiently explained to me how the West was really won, so it thrills me to see filmmakers present a story that actually took some pains to be accurate with the era. And that includes the real caliber (hee) of folks who were deputized by the marshal’s service, the goings-on in a courthouse and the “stilted dialogue” (which was in fact the way many folks spoke back then, when they’d had a bit of education in the Queen’s English). A fine book (which I am about to read, can’t believe it wasn’t in the bookcase with Daddy’s other Westerns!) of an honorable quest with anti-heroes and villains, made into a fine film.

    Hailee Steinfeld is a wonder, plain and simple. The woman they cast as the adult Mattie was perfect, too. And you are spot-on about the characters consistently telling her she was “ugly”; it was clearly their attempt to put her in what they thought was her “place” when they were intimidated by her intellect and temerity. Child had more huervos at 14 than every one of the old men, except maybe poor old Lucky Ned. Honor among thieves, indeed.

    I’m still baffled by those who criticized it as “not violent enough.” WHAT? It was plenty for us, and I hid my eyes twice. Some idiot in the back of the theater we were in kept saying, “GAWD DID HE REALLY SHOOT HIM GAWD THAT’S SO VIOLENT” (and he wasn’t being sarcastic). A gentleman behind us finally turned around and said, “Yes, son, that’s what happens when it’s makeup and not CGI.” (There was scattered applause, and the goon hushed.)

  9. nm
    January 3, 2011 at 4:01 pm

    I dunno, is cold-blooded revenge a feminist value? I mean, sure, Mattie goes off to kill the man who killed her father, but it seems that she does it more because there was no man to do it than for any other reason.

    On another topic, I just happened to watch Hearts of the West last night. It’s another Bridges movie, from the mid ’70s IIRC. It’s set in the early 1930s, and Bridges plays a wanna-be writer of Western fiction. At a couple of points he reads stuff he’s written, or speaks in the diction of his books. It sounds like the dialogue from True Grit, but instead of sounding quite natural and speechlike, the way all the characters in True Grit make it sound, it comes out howlingly stilted and funny. I just want to point out that that’s some great acting.

  10. w10ac
    January 4, 2011 at 9:17 am

    “…words were meant to contain her spirit. That, my friends, hasn’t changed in the 240 odd years between then and now…”

    Good review,I liked it too. But it’s obvious you weren’t a math major! ^j^

  11. January 5, 2011 at 6:50 am

    w10ac, no truer words were spoken. Thanks for pointing that out. Math is not my friend. :)

  12. January 5, 2011 at 9:31 am

    Into the queue it goes! I’ve never been much for westerns but this sounds interesting. And it’s hard to go wrong with the Cohens.

  13. Brett
    January 10, 2011 at 6:18 am

    In the very beginning of the movie, I saw similarities between Mattie Ross and Dorothy Gale (Wizard of Oz).
    But in the very end, it was Mattie Ross and Miss Almira Gulch! Did anyone else get that?

Comments are closed.