Movie Review - True Grit (2010)

This movie has been reviewed in our new format and rating system.  To see the new review, click here.

Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Paramount Pictures
for some intense sequences of western violence including disturbing images

Some movies sound very promising, right from the start. Others can be pegged as cinematic disasters as soon as you see the poster. True Grit, a western about a saucy fourteen-year-old girl who hires a godless federal marshal to track down her father’s murderer—that’s a movie which, before you actually see it, could go either way. To be entirely truthful—not having seen it, or even seen the trailer—my initial guess was that True Grit would end up closer to the cinematic disaster end of the scale, the good parts outweighed by worldview problems, clichés and gratuitous violence.

Happy surprise: True Grit is a good movie. Great scripting, great acting; the worldview was decent, overall; there weren’t any clichés, plot holes or typicalities, and the fourteen-year-old girl doesn’t behave like she was parachuted in from the twenty-first century. Admittedly, though, I wasn’t too far off center about the violence.

Violent and Intense Content:
I’ll go ahead and state the worst of it: if you’re going to watch every single segment of the movie, you’re going to see a criminal get his fingers chopped off and shriek disturbingly until his partner stabs him in the chest, and gets his own brains blown against the wall. If you don’t care to see that particular sequence, there are reference points available below*. The only other particularly bloody scene (another section some viewers might want to avoid*) happens when a man has bitten his own tongue during a fight, and another character makes as if to pull the tip of the tongue off to help it heal, while the man chokes on the blood and tries to stop him.

Morbid segments include a hanging at the beginning of the movie (both above and below the scaffold visible during the drop), a partly decayed corpse hanging and then falling from a tall tree; an embalmed body in a casket, and dead men leaned against the outside of a shack.

There are some mildly intense fighting, shooting and threatening scenes, a creepy section involving rattlesnakes, and a snakebite complete with scoring the wound with a knife and sucking out the poison.

In a life-or-death situation, one of the characters stabs a pony in the flank to get it to run faster, and later, after it collapses from the strain, shoots it in the head.

Sexual Content:

Fourteen-year-old Mattie wakes up one morning to find a Texas Ranger casually sitting in a chair on the other side of her bedroom, waiting for a parley. He later briefly remarks that he had given some thought to stealing a kiss while she was asleep.

Cultural Stumbling-Blocks:
The Texas Ranger smokes a pipe, and the federal marshal Rooster Cogburn smokes cigarettes, which Mattie adeptly rolls for him.

At one point, Rooster comes across a crate of whiskey, and drinks it all himself. His drunkenness is ridiculous, rather than humorous, and makes everyone think less highly of him.

Rooster mentions gambling.

True Grit has, among other good and interesting things, complex characters. Not complex in the deep, philosophical, moral-of-the-story-is kind of way, but complex in the real-life, good-people-sometimes-do-bad-things, bad-people-sometimes-do-good-things, some-people-are-hard-to-figure-out kind of way. This is at the same time an asset to the movie, and a small problem.

Mattie is serious, witty and well-educated in business and law—fine qualities, all. However, her intelligent, adult-level quips might not be a helpful example for girls in the audience who tend toward disrespect or rebellion. Mattie’s insistence on accompanying her hired marshal while he tracks the murderer (and her natural decision to wear trousers, a big coat and her father’s hat on the journey) don’t seem to be at all feministic in their nature, but they don’t constitute a biblical, feminine norm, either. Her ultimate goal is to bring her father’s killer to justice, which means (first choice) capturing him alive and taking him back to Arkansas to stand trial and then hang, or (second choice) being obliged to kill the fellow in a gunfight, if his gang interferes. The iffy situations come in when Mattie on one occasion states that she would shoot the murderer herself, if the law wouldn’t hang him, and when she refuses to consider letting the Texas Ranger capture him and take him back to Texas to hang for a murder he committed there.

Rooster Cogburn, U.S. Marshal, is complex on the other end of the spectrum. Primarily, what he does is not good—lying under oath, drinking to excess, cussing not infrequently (see below), lumping sermons in with fairy tales and other things he doesn’t believe, and (it is suggested) killing more men than was exactly necessary. Nobody’s supposed to think those things are okay. Iffy situation here is that Rooster does something good toward the end of the movie, but never repents of any of his sins, which could possibly leave some viewers with a good-deeds-redeem mindset.

Other strange and unusual complexities include a man about to be hanged pleading between sobs for the townspeople to bring their children up right, because he killed a man in a petty quarrel while drunk on whiskey; and a nervous, simpleton criminal (at one point referred to as a Methodist) who, after giving the good guys the information they need, and being stabbed by his partner in consequence, says with his dying breath—and a peaceful expression on his face—that he will meet his circuit preacher brother in the streets of glory.

A rational female character says she never married because she “didn’t have time to fool with that.”
The Texas Ranger claims he saw Mattie’s mother, and that she wants Mattie to come home right away, and it is not clear whether the man—a good guy—was lying, or whether Mattie disobeys her mother’s wishes.
Freemasonry is briefly and indirectly mentioned.

This is Rooster’s department. He takes God’s name in vain once, and curses people, situations and butchered ducks with “hell” (once), “d-mn” (twice), and “G--d--n” (six times). The vulgarities “b-tch” and “b-----d” come up a total of four times.
Reference points for manually muting the language are available*.

True Grit is an enjoyable movie. It’s not without its flaws, but (“surprising” being the key word in this review) it ended up being a good, classic, fun-and-serious-at-the-same-time western. Those of you who (like me) don’t typically care for movies about saucy fourteen-year-old girls may have to see it to believe that.

Because of the violence and some of the morbidity, I wouldn’t recommend True Grit for boys under the age of twelve; and because of the above reasons (plus, maybe, potential role model issues with Mattie), I wouldn’t recommend it for girls under fifteen. Otherwise, understanding it’s not perfect, it’s pretty cool.

Learn More about
The Gospel of Jesus Christ >>