True Grit

(M) Paramount DVD/BD

Proverbs 28:1 declares that “the wicked flee when none pursueth”. The Coen Brothers’ remake of the only film to earn John Wayne an Oscar begins with this biblical quotation and proceeds to use it as an inflammatory statement.

While True Grit is fuelled by the pursuit of “the wicked”, the remainder of this particular proverb — “but the righteous are as bold as a lion” — is only partly borne out by the Coens’ vengeful and high-quality western.

Brassy 14-year-old girl Mattie Ross (Oscar-nominated Hailee Steinfeld) and hired gun Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) are certainly bold, as they eventually team up to hunt down Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), the man who killed Ross’ father.

Their “eye for an eye” quest for so-called justice has an air of righteousness, as they seek to punish wrongdoing that authorities have ignored.

But while Ross makes a resounding theological statement as an adult via voiceover — “You must pay for everything in this world, one way and another. There is nothing free except the grace of God” — True Grit grips most tightly to self-righteous actions.

The refrain and lyrics of hymn “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” echo throughout the Coen Brothers’ more optimistic companion piece to nihilistic neo-western No Country for Old Men, yet reliance upon God’s judgment isn’t depicted here.

Instead, the unsubtle sight of one-eyed Marshal Cogburn (he wears an eye patch) helping a girl with her vigilante obsession wants to represent some kind of personal redemption process for reprobate Rooster.

Salvation through taking the law into your own hands? How does that marry with the Christian knowledge about receiving the gift of eternal sanctification?

Among many substantial accomplishments (from scripting to cinematography, performances to dark-tinged humour and acrid insights), perhaps True Grit’s most enticing element for many viewers is its embrace of vigilantism.

No matter what we understand about God’s sovereign control of all things, our sinful nature screams for immediate and tangible retribution when we believe we have been wronged.

If you find yourself barracking for Mattie and Rooster’s revenge mission, ponder what this says about your trust in God being the ultimate judge.

Ben McEachen

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