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Goats, gripes, and grasping for greatness
Movies: True Grit 
29th-Dec-2010 09:13 am
Summer
We saw True Grit yesterday, at the 3:30 showing. The theater was surprisingly packed. The show was solidly good, and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys westerns and doesn't mind some painfully gratuitous violence (fingers chopped off, some BIG rattlesnakes).

The plot: As the story opens, a hired hand has shot his boss, stolen his boss's horse, and ridden off into Indian Territory. The dead boss's 14-year-old daughter arrives in town, fast-talks her father's business associate into a refund for a horse sale, then turns around and offers that money to a U.S. Marshall to pursue the fugitive hired hand. She also invites herself along on the hunt. About the same time, a Texas Ranger in pursuit of the hired hand for previous crimes shows up in town. Off they go into the wild west.

The cinematography was excellent, the music subtle, and the cast was balanced and strong if not outstanding (Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Hailee Steinfeld). Despite the scope of the scenery, the movie was kept down to a handful of speaking parts, and there was no confusion about who was who and why they were a part of the discussion. We were watching protagonists, not heroes, and I spent much of the movie trying to decide if I liked - or was even sympathetic to - any of the three main characters. That indecision made the story richer for me, because I became more invested in the means and the ends than I was stuck on caring about the characters simply winning because I liked them.

The ending was certainly a conclusion of sorts, and the absence of happily ever after was keenly felt. The denouement really wasn't what I expected, though by that time, I'm not sure what I did expect.

My strongest nod goes to the honor-among-thieves attitudes in some of the dialog during the final set of confrontations. My did they have to? whine is in regards to the use (or lack thereof) of the horses during the last riding scene. (I'm trying not to spoil it until you see it.)

To contrast this movie with 3:10 to Yuma, I would say that, while Yuma was an action film, Grit was a character film. There were only small gun dramas in Grit, made large by the close-ups and the personal touch to the action. In comparison to Russell Crowe's urbane "bad guy" and fancy chase scenes in Yuma, Grit held unrefined protagonists and bitter antagonists who criss-crossed through the movie in search of their endings.

Hailee Steinfeld did a very good job playing a too-smart for herself 14-year-old girl in post-Civil-War Old West. Her acting involved some tricky moments of jumping back and forth from overconfident to barely hanging onto her guts. There were a few scenes where her whole-body expressions were so good that I was sure she was going to do something stupid, spoil a surprise, or lash out. I hope that she is recognized professionally for this work.
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