Thursday, 10 March 2011

True Grit (2010) - Amazing, despite its false justification of free market principles

Viewing Context:
Dragged my dad and my little cousin to see it when on a rugby league weekend away. Seven live games of rugby league and a Coen Brothers Western is a shit-hot weekend if you ask me.

Written (screenplay) and Directed by the Coen Brothers, I believe I needn't say more. Except, I don't see what people's problems are with Burn After Reading, I thought it was an excellent followup to No Country For Old Men, proving their diversity.

What happened:
A sharp tongued, witty, charismatic fourteen year old girl, Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) is in search of her father's murderer, Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin). She enlists the ageing, one eyed Marshall, Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), to hunt him down and is (loosely) joined by a Texas ranger, LeBoeuf (Matt Damon) who has been on Chaney's tracks since he shot a senator in Texas.

What I liked:
Dialogue: The incessantly quick back and forth was exhilarating and all three of the main characters - along with any of the supporting cast - really sold it. Rooster's bumbling semi-coherent ramblings were hilarious, so they entertained, as well as giving a convenient way to gain insight into his past.
Hailee Steinfeld: What a strong year for onscreen females. Natalie Portman's accomplished, Oscar winning performance in Black Swan, another Oscar winner in Melissa Leo (The Fighter), along with Jacki Weaver (Animal Kingdom) playing the controlling matriarchal older demographic, with Annette Benning and Julianne Moore (The Kids are Alright) covering the caring and maternal side. Then there was the young Jennifer Lawrence (Winter's Bone) to the even younger Hailee Steinfeld here. Then you have Chloe moretz's Hit Girl from Kick-Ass and Emma stone really breaking through with Easy A, both propping up the commercial mainstream market with great performances. There are many more, but I have already digressed some what. Basically, Steinfeld ran the show in this film and completely blew me away.
No black and white heroes and villains: They were all, well rounded individuals (see themes - amorality).
Funny: It was really funny in bits without losing gravitas.

What disappointed:
Grown up Mattie: When Mattie was grown up, she just didn't seem right. I know that's not much of a sophisticated or eloquent way to put it, but that's it, she just didn't seem to me as though she was an older version of the girl we had just spent all that time with.
Free Market justification:This didn't affect how amazing I thought the film was; how beautiful it looked, how witty, punchy and well delivered the dialogue was, but it must be noted how much of a false justification this film makes for free market principles that have been exposed as ridiculous (see themes).

Free market economy: Everything was a transaction; transactions that kept the whole thing going, driving the narrative and dictating the relationships between characters. In fact, there wasn't much of a hint that Cogburn and Leboeuf were doing this for any conception of good, or doing 'the right thing'. Everyone was motivated by financial reward (except of course Mattie's drive for vengence). The film never judgmentally looked down on this or used any caricature of greed, in fact it naturalised that this sort of little narrative obsessed, free market principle makes the world go round and through this system problems solve themselves. This is clearly bullshit; this principal has actually led to massive wealth inequality and the collapse of the Western (pun intended) world.
Amorality of this free market: This justification of an amoral free market ties in with well rounded villains; they just reckon that they can make more money in this line of work. Hence, the scumbag murderer that they build Chaney up to be throughout turns out to not be all that bad. Even more so, Lucky Ned is more than kind and accomodating to Mattie. The same moral ambiguity exists for the film's protagonists: Rooster tells his story of the New Mexico escapade, when he robbed a high interest bank. 'Stealing is stealing' Mattie told him, and he was like yeah that's what New Mexico thought. It must be added actually, that it is a wider concept of value and financial reward than just money; there is a value put on everything: money, time, risk, etc. The villains just take that extra risk, for extra reward.
Strong woman, but only inside civilisation: Mattie unexpectedly ran rings round everyone in the city (civilisation). Not just those that are ingrained in society, like the shopkeeper, but Lebeouf and Cogburn, who are a sort of hybrid of civilsation and wildernss, but only when inside the town - inside civilisation. Once they stepped into the wilderness, she still showed her grit, but it was very clear that she was out of her depth, with her dialogue drastically reduced.

Scene of the film:
When she takes the shopkeeper for all that money. What a way to show how she can control the world of economics and commerce (the controlling language of the western world). It also showed how much of an important role she would go on to have in a world that is increasingly based in civilisation and away from the dwindling wilderness (in which her uncomfort was evident).

Performance of the film:
Hailee steinfeld. I should have made clear above.


  1. Your positive notes about Hailee Stanfield concurs with my thoughts that she should've won Best Supporting (???) actress at the oscars.

    Loved your stuff on the free-market economoy - everything truly was a transaction. Do you think that 9/11 theory feeds into it too? lots of shady buisness deals happened after the terrorist strike ...

  2. Ah I remember your 9/11 argument was much more compelling than Jo gave it credit for. Did you write it up on your blog, if so post the link up in the comments here too.
    Especially because everything about the economy runs counter to contemporary society and is more in line with the time the source material was produced (obviously), whereas I always like to think that when things are remade, there is somthing about them that resounds with contemporary society, which is more in line with your post 9/11 symbolism.