Leaning on the Everlasting Arms


The Coen brothers make two kinds of movies: ones that obsess over the existence of evil and ones that muse on it, accept it merrily, and plow on. True Grit (Paramount Pictures) is the second type, which I tend to prefer. I fear this nimble seriocomic Western won’t be recognized as the fine movie it is, both because the Coens were so recently bathed in Oscar glory for No Country for Old Men and because critical opinion seems to prefer it when these smart Jewish boys from Minneapolis go deep and dark. A Serious Man, their last film, was a beautifully crafted puzzle that retold the Book of Job—or possibly Ecclesiastes—as a suburban domestic comedy. It was chilly, smart, bleakly hilarious, and cinematically virtuosic to a near-pathological degree. But like much of their work, it wasn’t exactly a movie that offered itself up for the audience’s love. True Grit does, and some Coen brothers fans may think that makes it pandering or lightweight. I think it makes it wonderful. The story of Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), a 14-year-old girl in 19th-century Arkansas who hires a bounty hunter to avenge her father’s murder, this version of True Grit hews more closely to the cult novel by Charles Portis than the 1969 adaptation starring John Wayne. Its most marked characteristic is its dialogue, written in a peculiar archaic diction that, for reasons I still haven’t fully understood, never interferes with the movie’s emotional directness. Informed that another character has died, Mattie observes gravely, “His depredations are over.”

more from Dana Stevens at Slate here.