True Grit – Cowboys Acting Serious

I never rightly expected True Grit to send me a trampin’ through the wilderness on a journey o’ my own, pittin’ me against man and nature, but when I found m’self parked at the wrong movie theater, my life transformed into a most dire adventure. I’d already paid the meter 45 cents; if I reparked now, those coins would’ve given of themselves fer nothin’. I stood, perplexed, until my cousin said he knew the where’bouts of the other theater. We put aside our differences, he one o’ them proud college types, me a lowly alcoholic, and set out together, our common goal keepin’ our travel civil.

We sprinted through them streets, never heedin’ the warnings o’ the people we flew past. We ran and we ran, like we was on the dodge, all the while knowin’ we was never gonna make it, but then, suddenly, the theater came into view, and what a sight it was. We raced down the stairs, and before we knew it, we was inside. But I still had to acquire m’self some sustenance. I didn’t have time for decisions, so I told the girl behind the counter, “Get me some popcorn, lady. Whichever size is best.” She seemed miffed and did not act until I specified. Once I did, she moved ponderous slow and would not hand over the bag until I done tell her whether I wanted butter. I said I was watchin’ my figure, so no thank you ma’am, but my cousin, see, he wanted just a bit, so he asks for it. She musta been right spiteful, because she poured on more butter than I ever did see and handed it over with a glare in her eye.

Our old-west style journey finally over, my cousin and I settled into our seats, sitting right next to a young couple and thus unintentionally ruining their chances of making out the whole time.

In my opinion, True Grit received way too much acclaim. Its award-worthy acting and snappy, well-written dialogue were the stuff of Best Pictures, and critics and average moviegoers were drawn to this, forgetting that there’s more to movies than just acting and dialogue. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much more to this movie. Where was the plot? Where was the character development? Where was the emotion?

The plot was slow and predictable. True Grit is basically just a buddy cop movie augmented with a precocious little girl. In order to fit the Hollywood standard, the girl is required to succeed, the two buddies must have flaws that are counterpoints to each others, and the main characters must have a falling out, only to put aside their differences right before the climax. True Grit follows this plotline exactly, but the Coen brothers try to hide that fact behind high production values and a not 100% happy ending. By making the girl lose an arm, the brothers hope to shift this movie from trope to trophy.

Because the plot was so obvious, I never once feared for the characters, and if you’re never afraid of what might happen, there’s no emotional tension. You end up with a movie that’s logically good but emotionally uninspired. Sure, the little girl was smart for her age and very determined, but they spent like an hour building up that character. How many times do I have to watch her barter? She starts off precocious, and she ends precocious. By the time the closing credits rolled around, the only thing she’d learned was how to function with one less arm.

Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) is a totally wasted character. Get it? But seriously, he had so much potential. He’s this badass marshal who’s seen better days and now pisses away all his money on booze. Jeff Bridges plays him so well, but he just doesn’t have enough to work with. He could have started out down in the dumps, been inspired by this girl, lost his newfound faith, and then come through in the end. That’s basically what happens, except that they never sell you on his character arc. You can from tell the beginning that he’s still just as hardcore as ever. You never truly believe that he’s given up, and when he finally saves the day it’s just not surprising.

Maybe it’s a little more realistic this way, but it’s like the Coen brothers decided the only way to achieve realism was to sacrifice character and plot. Nothing interesting happens until well into the film when Cogburn and the girl come upon a cabin and kill some shady characters. Sure, it might be realistic for nothing to happen, but we don’t go to the theater for nothing; we go for a good story. Also in the name of realism, the main villain is painted as a sort of normal guy. Well that’s great, except I don’t care about watching Mattie Ross track down someone normal. I want higher stakes!

True Grit had high production values, great acting, wonderful dialogue, and a good sense of the Old West. What it did not have was an interesting plot, good character arcs, high stakes, or any semblance of emotional connection. Because the things that made it good are usually lauded by critics and people who think too highly of themselves, this movie has received largely positive reviews, but in my opinion, it simply wasn’t entertaining. And art, be it good or bad, serious or light-hearted, meaningful or shallow, must do one thing, and that is entertain. I was teetering on the edge of boredom throughout, and therefore, I give True Grit:


Alignment: Standard Gold

I know this is a nitpick, but why did that guy cut off his partner’s fingers before immediately stabbing him in the chest? That’s just unnecessary!

Written by Russ Nickel

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