Remaking the western movie True Grit was ballsy. Improving on John Wayne's classic was downright unAmerican. Mel Gibson should keep an eye on directors Joel and Ethan Coen, lest they engage in further subversive activities.
In this film, Mattie Ross travels across the Arkansas/Oklahoma landscape to avenge her slain father. The teen must negotiate the rough physical terrrain of "Indian Territory" and harsh moral terrain of wild frontier. She exudes courage, honesty and fairness - values modern Americans could cultivate more and boast about less.
The scenery is brown, dusty leather and gray, winter underbrush. The soundtrack is a page ripped from grandma's church hymnbook. The dialogue is witty and gritty - not too clever, not too crude, just right.
On her quest, Mattie (Hailee Steinfeld) must resist three deadly sins: greed that makes a citified horse-trader cowardly and apathetic to her cause, lust of the flesh that makes lazy, drunken U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) prone to ethical shortcuts and cruelty, plus self-righteous pride that makes Texas Ranger LeBoeuf (Matt Damon) silly and neurotic.
When Mattie acheives her vengeance, she falls from innocence to be snake-bitten, like the first humans and all since. Her messiah is an unlikely one. As Cogburn furiously carries her horseback thru the night, toward the porch lights of medical care, the choice of background music is astonishing: "Leaning On Jesus' Everlasting Arms" and "Hold to God's Unchanging Hand." Really?
Are we supposed to believe that a lost man corrupted by bad decisions and an ugly world, when confronted with moral obligation in a form as pure as a child and vulnerable as a frontier female, might get back on his horse (from which he fell like Adam so long ago) to become the arms of God for one other person, one last time? If not, what are cowboy movies for?
This film offers the quirky American suggestion that God's hand might not always be soft, cloistered and resting on a bible but sometimes worn, calloused and fingering a gun. It may be bullshit, but it's glorious American bullshit. We aren't surprised that the Academy preferred stammering Brit to American Grit, but we're sad for them. We remember why our ancestors came to an uncouth new world and we are proud.