A civilising influence

January 27th, 2011

I didn't need Michael Wood's London Review of Books piece about the Coen Brothers' True Grit to make me want to see the film. It's the Coen Brothers directing a cast headed by Jeff Bridges, with Matt Damon and Josh Brolin in supporting roles and what looks from the trailers to be a terrific performance from Hailee Steinfeld: I'm sold.

Wood's review did, however, make me think that I might enjoy catching up with the source material some day:

[There...] is nothing in the film that resembles the dry, prim wit of Portis's narrator, who is Mattie at a later stage in her life. Thinking of the hanging judge who became a Catholic, the strictly Presbyterian Mattie says: 'If you had sentenced 160 men to death and had seen around 80 of them swing, then maybe at the last minute you would feel the need of some stronger medicine than the Methodists could make.' When she first sees Cogburn, she describes him as 'an old one-eyed jasper that was built along the lines of Grover Cleveland', following up with the comment: 'Some people will say, well, there were more men in the country at that time who looked like Cleveland than did not. Still, that is how he looked.' Forced by the bandits who capture her to forge a signature, she has no taste for the task but does it well. 'It is not in me to do poor work where writing is concerned' – and indeed she never does. Finally faced with the man who killed her father, she says, 'You may readily imagine that I registered shock at the sight of that squat assassin'; and when the bandits are defeated she notes that 'no doubt they were surprised and not a little disconcerted by the interesting development.' Every word is perfectly in place, and her unperturbed fussiness in this world represents a form of courage. Mattie is the comically extreme version of the woman as civilising influence in the old west: only 14 and already able to boss everyone around, especially the rugged individuals so infatuated with their own independence.

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