True Grit – Mumbling, Lisping and Enunciating

I went to see True Grit a couple of weeks ago, and have been thinking about it a fair amount since.  I should declare up front that I am a fan of the Coen brothers’ movies.  Mainly I think because of their sly humour and the often odd angles through which they appear to view the world.  While they have moved away from the strange long shots from floor level that they used so eerily in films like ‘Barton Fink’ and ‘Miller’s Crossing’ their framing of the shots is still a pleasure to the eye.

The landscape behind the action of True Grit is wintry; the viewer feels the cold; it is no surprise that the earth is frozen too hard to permit the burying of a body.

The clothes on the actors’ backs are bulky against the chill and grow ever dirtier as the film progresses; you can feel the distance they all are from the nearest settlement: is ‘civilisation’ the right world?

They are all on their own and will have to rely on their joint resources to survive and to achieve their objective to track down Tom Chaney.

But I think the greatest pleasure for me was the dialogue, or if not the dialogue the manner in which it was delivered.  There was a real sense of humour behind it, I think.

Jeff Bridges spent most of the film mumbling and Matt Damon, after coming off worst in a fight in which he bit his tongue, spoke for the remainder of the film with a pronounced lisp from behind a ridiculous moustache, while Hailee Steinfield, the young actress playing Mattie, spoke in deliberately arcane formal sentences which might have come straight from the Bible.

The dialogue was sharp and witty, and rewarded careful listening, as sometimes Jeff Bridges’ mumbling made it difficult to hear; it was dry and underplayed all the way through.  I enjoyed the minimalism of it.

‘That didn’t go the way I planned’ as he surveyed a row of dead men; but equally he became nearly garrulous when telling Mattie of his marital misadventures; painting for us a picture of a self-centred, deeply flawed man.

By lisping with his damaged tongue, Matt Damon gave the character of LaBoeuf a sustained but low-key comic air.  Behind his moustache and underneath his tasselled, hide jacket there is a man of some principal, forced to throw in his lot with Cogburn, because he too is motivated by money in his quest to track the villain Chaney.

It is Mattie who is the one solely motivated by vengeance in the search; but it is her speech idiom and clear-eyed determination that lets us know that she has right on her side.  She seeks the retribution that is her right according to the Old Testament.

So there it is…once again I’m recommending a film on the basis of its dialogue and the manner in which it is delivered.

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  1. Adrian Berryhill

     /  February 26, 2011

    Matt Damon looks like Brad Pitt in that picture lol. I want to see this movie.

  2. I am a huge admirer of Matt Damon and he didn’t let me down, nor did Jeff Bridges. However, I was absolutely blown away by Hailee’s performance. Superb! I, just Saturday, snuck away and saw The Kings Speech and completely loved it. So happy that Colin Firth received the Oscar!


    • Hey Lydia, Glad to hear you are getting out to the movies! Hailee certainly held her own against the others in the film. I do think a lot of the strength of all of them came from the major contrasts between them. I enjoyed the Kings’ Speech too – but then I would go to see Colin F do pretty much anything (even sing!)

  3. john patrick ruddy

     /  March 1, 2011

    I saw John Wayne in the original of this (the ‘Shootist’). I read a review that claimed it was the “best film” Wayne had ever made. I waited (and wasted) 90 mins for evidence of the superlative performance of Mr Wayne: I didn’t find any.

    • I don’t know much about J Wayne, but he did win an Oscar for the first film version of the book also called ‘True Grit’ in 1969. Maybe just give him miss and try out the Coen brothers take on the novel?

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