True Grit, 2010


"Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord". Mattie Ross knows this truth, but that doesn't prevent her from pursuing the wicked. Because she also knows that unpursued, they will flee. But beyond that, she knows also that the righteous are like a bold lion– which is the latter part of the verse in Proverbs 28:1 that opens up the story of this young woman who is truly possessed with true grit.

The Coen brothers have done it again– given us a story that is, dare I say it, made better the second time around. In the original movie, the part of Rooster Cogburn may have been made for John Wayne, the consummate and eternal cowboy, but in this new one Jeff Bridges was *made* for this role of U.S. Marshal. Mattie hires him because she is told that he has true grit– the one quality she is seeking in any man she hires to hunt down her father's killer. But it is really Mattie who has true grit to initiate and execute her mission. She can roll up a cigarette with as much skill and finesse as she can quote scripture or negotiate business matters; and she can tell a Texan Ranger just what she thinks as much as she can tell the outlaw, Tom Cheney, that she has come to take him back to be hanged in the state of Arkansas. And succeed she does. But there is a price to pay for it. This, she acknowledges much later as a grown woman. The opening lines of the movie bear the voice-over of Mattie observing this truth: “You must pay for everything in this world one way and another. There is nothing free with the exception of God’s grace.”

She is right. And this is the beauty and mystery of the grace of God. It is free to one and all: to the repentant evil-doer as well as the thief on the cross. It is not for us to question the reasoning of the divine instrument that allows the rain to fall on both the just and the unjust. For such are the mercies of the Almighty. All our righteous indignation at the injustice of the world may come to naught if it is not the will of God. Call that unfair, but if we were to receive what is truly due to us, in the words of the Bard: who should 'scape whipping? And that, my friend, is where grace comes in. Grace is unfair, but it is always in our favor. We get what we do not deserve!

On a side note, Matt Damon is brilliant as Mr. LeBeouf. And two things about Mattie that I can't help but notice as a comparison on a personal note: her severely braided hair is identical to the plaits that I wore when I was fourteen years of age! And an even more minor side note: I have had the pleasure of visiting Petit Jean Mountain in Arkansas– that is the place that Mattie says she has been to in support of her plea to Rooster to allow her to accompany him on the outlaw-hunting expedition.

Cocked and loaded from the opening frame, True Grit does come truly close to offering a spiritual experience, further bolstered by the haunting melody of the old Christian hymn, "Leaning On The Everlasting Arms" throughout the entire movie. My own grandmother, by the way, born in 1903 used to sing that very hymn just as soulfully: “Oh how sweet to walk in this pilgrim way / Leaning on the everlasting arms / Oh how bright the path goes from day to day / Leaning on the everlasting arms / What have I to dread what have I to fear / Leaning on the everlasting arms.”

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