True Grit, is an adaptation of the 1968 novel of the same name. The first film adaptation was in 1969, starring John Wayne. "The Duke" (John Wayne's nickname) won the Oscar for best actor in 1969. I have seen the John Wayne version when I was a child, but can recollect very little of the film. However, the 2011 version, is a solid film in all aspects. From the casting, directing, cinematography, script, to music soundtrack and production value are all very well done.
The story starts with the narration from Mattie Ross, as an grown adult telling the audience about a story that happened to her when she was 14 years old. Mattie's father was murdered by one of his hired hand, Tom Chaney. Mattie went into the town to take care of her father's business and through trading some of her father's remaining properties, made some money. Then she proceeded to hire "Rooster Cogburn" (Jeff Bridges), a fearless US marshal to track down Tom Chaney and bring him to the law, she told Cogburn that the condition for this job is that he has to take her with him to track down Chaney. Along the way and through circumstances, a Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) joined the hunt and the trio set out on this improbable quest to bring Chaney to the law.
The story is straight and simple. However, having said that, the story of "True Grit" focuses alot on character development. This is the one thing I liked about this film, Coen brothers told the story in a way that made the audiences think about the meaning/moral of the story, rather than trying to impress the audiences through the flashy, overly complicated and bizarre philosophies so common in many modern day films. The movie started with a quote from half of Proverbs 28:1: The wicked man flees though no one pursues... Personally, I think if the movie maker had quoted the entire verse: "The wicked man flees though no one pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion", it would have fitted the movie a lot more better.
The central theme of this movie is in the opening narration of Mattie Ross, when she said nothing in this world is free except for the grace of God. As a 14 year girl who lost her father, Mattie had to bargain, negotiate and fight for her rights against adults who constantly tried to rip her off. One gets a sense of her absence of innocence throughout the entire film because she never smiled, and also her meticulous ways of dealing with day to day transactions in life. On her quest to bring her father's murderer to the law, she witnessed a lot of death and harms that happened because of the quest. In other words, Mattie Ross learnt the price for vengeance during her hunt for her father's killer, she even landed up paying this price with a part of herself (literally, watch the film to find out what it is). It is a journey for her to discover that nothing is free in this world except the grace of God. One can say that although Mattie is a Christian, her sense of biblical justice is twisted because she does not show forgiveness. Now, I may be way off, but personally I think this is what the Coen brother envisioned the film to be, the journey of a 14 year old headstrong girl who insist on having revenge discovers that vengeance comes with a great price, and only in the grace of God can she be really find peace and love.
In the movie, Mattie witnessed the repentance of a criminal who is about to be hanged begging the crowd to have mercy on his family after his death. All in all, this movie will make you think about the meaning of things such as: justice, grace, trust in God, and redemption because these are the main themes of the story.
Jeff Bridge's portrayal of Rooster is solid, Matt Damon put up a strong performance as the supporting actor. The background music is an old hymn (leaning on the everlasting arm), which fits the theme of the film very well. The cinematography and the visuals are stunning, on par (if not better) with "the Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford".
Story 10/10: The Coen brothers masterfully told a great tale of adventure in a very simple and clear way, the story is well knitted, with memorable and interesting characters that will make you reflect on a lot of Christian values, especially the grace of God.
Cinematography 9.5/10: Crisp and beautiful imageries, it is a visually stunning film.
Music/sound 9/10: The main soundtrack "leaning on the everlasting arms" suits the movie really well. Although I was wondering why the Johnny Cash soundtrack from the movie trailer wasn't in the movie.
Acting/production value 9.5/10: I really liked Jeff Bridge's portoryal as Rooster Cogburn, I hope he wins some award for his role in this movie. The support actors and actress put on solid performances as well.
Violence: The movie is "M" rated, there are some pretty violent scenes, there is one slightly disturbing scene of a man's fingers being chopped off.
Final score: 9/10 - As I said at the beginning of the review, this is one of the best and most meaningful movies (not only from a Christian sense, also in general) I've seen in recent years. Amongst the vast amount of Hollywood media entertainment, I can truly say that I was not only entertained, but this story also directed me to re-think and reflect on how Jesus has paid the price of sin for us, and because of that we can have the free gift of grace. In our world where seemingly nothing is free nor unconditional, God's grace is free, all we have to do is to accept it and loving Him back.