Oscar Profile: True Grit

by Tom Ingram

True Grit is odd, for a Coen Brothers movie. Typically, there’s a certain trace of weirdness in their films, something that’s difficult to pin down but instantly recognizeable. True Grit may be their first movie that lacks this essential Coen-ness. As a faithful adaptation of Charles Portis’s 1968 novel, there isn’t room for nihilist kidnappers or Steve Buscemi.

It’s almost, dare I say, a completely straight-ahead Western. Something that’s all too rare these days. The tiny, wide-open towns beset on all sides by the majestically rugged desert landscape are delectable feasts for the eye, and the mounted gunfights are a kind of action that hasn’t been used in so long it feels downright fresh.

The movie is about Mattie Ross, a fourteen-year-old girl who hires a down-and-out US Marshal with “true grit” to find the outlaw who killed her father. Although she doesn’t know how to handle a gun, she’s not afraid to face off with Lucky Ned Pepper’s gang, and she follows Marshal Cogburn out into the wild country to help bring in the killer.

She is easily the best thing about this movie. Whether she’s negotiating a seasoned businessman out of hundreds of dollars, haggling with a hung-over law officer in the toilet, or looking in the wild eyes of her father’s killer, she maintains a solemnly dignified bearing and formal tone of voice. She’s like your grandmother as a teenager–a force of nature.

Nominations

True Grit has been nominated for:

  • Best Picture
  • Best Director
  • Best Adapted Screenplay
  • Best Actor (Jeff Bridges)
  • Best Supporting Actress (Hailee Steinfeld)
  • Best Art Direction
  • Best Cinematography
  • Best Costume Design
  • Best Sound Mixing
  • Best Sound Editing

It’s a good movie, certainly, but hardly Best Picture material. I would be very surprised if it won that award. Jeff Bridges would be a nice choice for Best Actor, but he won last year and it would seem faintly suspicious if he won twice in a row. The cinematography is great, but keep in mind that it’s up against Black Swan and Inception.

I actually think that Hailee Steinfeld is a likely candidate for Best Supporting Actress. Of course, it’s ridiculous that she was nominated in that category–she plays the main character and narrator, and has more screen time than Jeff Bridges, so I’m unclear on how exactly she’s a supporting actress, but we’ll let that go.

Best Adapted Screenplay has some stiff competition, with scripts by people like Danny Boyle and Aaron Sorkin up for the award. True Grit may not win, but it certainly deserves to. The strange use of language is delightful and funny, not to mention perfectly evocative of Portis’s original words.

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