True Grit begins at the end of the line. As the train carrying Mattie Smith (Hailee Steinfeld) rolls into Fort Smith, the tracks end and our heroine jumps off. The train heads back into the frontier, man-made law and back to reason. Mattie Ross, on the other hands, strides on into a surreal world of wit, the wicked and the wise, taking us along for the rodeo.
True Grit will not disappoint Coen brother fans, containing their trademark dense dialogue, subtle scenes disrupted by shocking violence and dark humour. Like the protagonist (an Übermensch of a 14 year old) True Grit sees no sense in sentimentality. The score, shooting style and aesthetics are simple, and the characters are rough around the edges. The movie isn’t about salvation, it’s about Mattie’s system of justice and her will to seek it out. And from the beginning we are closely aligned with Mattie’s view of the world. When Lucky Ned Pepper (Barry Pepper) stands on Mattie’s face we look up with her at his spittle encrusted crooked smile as he negotiates for her life. When (spoiler) she is bitten by a rattlesnake we slip into her hallucinations, watching the stars in the sky blur as the open country swirls by. Like Rooster (Jeff Bridges) and LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) we learn to see the world as Mattie does, but this is neither good nor bad. It simply is.
It’s because of this that True Grit isn’t a Western. A Western is a morality tale of man against nature and society, a tale of (generally) male civilization coming of age. No one comes of age in True Grit: Mattie is born old, Rooster is set in his ways and LaBoeuf is just fine as the true American that he is. True Grit isn’t about anything other than the simple fact that, as Mattie says: “Time catches up to us in the end.” All we can do is spin a yarn as we wait for it, and True Grit is a fine one to pass the time.