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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

True Grit

By
John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service


Oscar-winners Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon star in "True Grit."
With "True Grit" (Paramount)—the second screen version of Charles Portis' 1968 novel of the same title, first adapted in a 1969 production helmed by Henry Hathaway and memorably starring John Wayne—writer-directors (and brothers) Joel and Ethan Coen combine dramatic excellence and moral heft to create an exceptionally fine reimagining of the traditional Western.

Though scenes of gunplay and other strife—together with some mildly salty language—preclude endorsement for youngsters, adult viewers will likely find this slyly witty frontier foray a captivating treat.

Tasked with organizing her father's funeral in the wake of his murder, 14-year-old Mattie Ross (impressive newcomer Hailee Steinfeld) travels alone to the scene of the crime -- the small, freewheeling town of Fort Smith, Ark. Preternaturally poised and remarkably determined, however, Mattie is intent on doing more than merely wrapping up her father's affairs. She means to bring the sole suspect in his killing—cowardly outlaw Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin)—to account.

But Chaney has escaped into Indian Territory, and Mattie quickly discovers that the local forces of the law have no interest in pursuing him. So, based on his reputation as a dogged tracker of fugitives, she enlists the aid of broken-down but resourceful U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges).

Also hunting Chaney—for a much older murder committed in the Lone Star State—is cocksure Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon). He eventually joins forces with Cogburn and Mattie. But the resulting alliance is an unsettled, on-again-off-again affair, strained by conflicting goals and by the comic, boastful rivalry between the lawmen.

What follows is a richly enjoyable tale enlivened by archetypical characters, a mythic atmosphere and amusingly idiosyncratic dialogue. Typical of this last element is Mattie's characterization of the marauding gang Chaney has joined while on the run; "a congress of louts," she calls them.

While thoroughly entertaining, "True Grit" also plumbs deeper. It opens with a quotation from the King James translation of the Book of Proverbs: "The wicked flee when no man pursueth," the first of several biblical and religious references scattered through the script.

These allusions draw attention to the film's serious reflections on the violent undertow of frontier life. Witnessed from Mattie's sensitive perspective, the shootouts and other death-dealing confrontations that take place here are never glossed over, but are shown instead to be unnatural and difficult to absorb.

In something of a conversion story, meanwhile, Cogburn and LaBoeuf struggle to overcome their personal shortcomings and petty mutual antipathy in the service of a larger cause.

The film contains considerable, occasionally bloody violence, brief gruesome imagery, a half-dozen uses of profanity and a few crass terms. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

*****
John Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.


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Jacopone da Todi: Jacomo, or James, was born a noble member of the Benedetti family in the northern Italian city of Todi. He became a successful lawyer and married a pious, generous lady named Vanna. 
<p>His young wife took it upon herself to do penance for the worldly excesses of her husband. One day Vanna, at the insistence of Jacomo, attended a public tournament. She was sitting in the stands with the other noble ladies when the stands collapsed. Vanna was killed. Her shaken husband was even more disturbed when he realized that the penitential girdle she wore was for his sinfulness. On the spot, he vowed to radically change his life. </p><p>He divided his possessions among the poor and entered the Secular Franciscan Order (once known as the Third Order). Often dressed in penitential rags, he was mocked as a fool and called Jacopone, or "Crazy Jim," by his former associates. The name became dear to him. </p><p>After 10 years of such humiliation, Jacopone asked to be a member of the Order of Friars Minor(First Order). Because of his reputation, his request was initially refused. He composed a beautiful poem on the vanities of the world, an act that eventually led to his admission into the Order in 1278. He continued to lead a life of strict penance, declining to be ordained a priest. Meanwhile he was writing popular hymns in the vernacular. </p><p>Jacopone suddenly found himself a leader in a disturbing religious movement among the Franciscans. The Spirituals, as they were called, wanted a return to the strict poverty of Francis. They had on their side two cardinals of the Church and Pope Celestine V. These two cardinals, though, opposed Celestine’s successor, Boniface VIII. At the age of 68, Jacopone was excommunicated and imprisoned. Although he acknowledged his mistake, Jacopone was not absolved and released until Benedict XI became pope five years later. He had accepted his imprisonment as penance. He spent the final three years of his life more spiritual than ever, weeping "because Love is not loved." During this time he wrote the famous Latin hymn, <i>Stabat Mater</i>. </p><p>On Christmas Eve in 1306 Jacopone felt that his end was near. He was in a convent of the Poor Clares with his friend, Blessed John of La Verna. Like Francis, Jacopone welcomed "Sister Death" with one of his favorite songs. It is said that he finished the song and died as the priest intoned the Gloria from the midnight Mass at Christmas. From the time of his death, Brother Jacopone has been venerated as a saint.</p> American Catholic Blog By immersing our lives in the rhythm of the season, charity can flood our souls and fill us with the happiness for which we were created. We awake Christmas morning prepared to celebrate the birth of our Savior not as a memory but as a profound experience of God’s redemptive love.

 
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