The Coen Brothers are one of the few directors that I will go to see their movies merely because they directed it. Although often over the top, they just make their point and often touch on the moral ambiguities and challenges of living (Barton Fink, A Serious Man, No Country for Old Men, Fargo and the Big Lebowski as a few examples) True Grit is no exception. Although I could point to a few failings in the movie (so why didn’t Matt Damon’s character take one of the dead guys horses at the end for one thing?) as a whole, it delivered. If anything it was a little less over the top than most of their movies but included a few of their usual gratuitous violent acts.
The story is about a girl who wants justice (vengeance?) for her father’s death. She recruits and partners up with two others in her quest. I am glad they made her a strong self directed driven character (as opposed to the girl in Shane or Pale Rider wimpering for the return of the male hero). The movie shows how Grit can come from many backgrounds, but only with risk and sacrifice and loss. And if you have grit it requires bucking the odds and conventional wisdom
I love movies with anti-heroes. Jeff Bridges was great as Rooster Cogburn who shaky past, and questionable moral compass are on display from the very beginning, but who once he commits himself is driven to achieve his goal. He accepts that the world doesn’t always go as planned and just rolls with it. His driven nature is on such visual display at the end that Cogburn rides his horse to death trying to save the young woman Mattie, and then takes over for the horse’s chore of carrying her until he falls as he gets to his goal. Are we no different from the horse, just beasts following the path we have chosen (or has been laid before us) until we fall (die). Not sure I agree with that, but this movie made that point well.
In truth the end was the most poignant for me and raised the question in me, what do we do after the significant, meaningful and traumatic events in life are done. How does it impact us going forward. In the movie, one stays stuck in their hardened shell, one went on to live a life of good times, and one disappears into oblivion. And all the characters had lost track of the people who helped shape their significant experience together. For me the message is that we should try to remain connected with the people who intersect in the important aspects of our lives. At least now compared with the old west, we have Facebook to help with that.