Mattie Ross is a young woman, tomboyish, proud, self-assured, who undertakes an everyday adventure in the wild west to take care of the business of crimes against her father, traveling to take try to take care of business with the man who wronged him. He is a fugitive, in the Indian territories, where there is even less law, but no less individualism, people confronted who are not cartoonish villains but characters trying to make their way. She needs to find a man to go after him – or, to help HER go after him, because she never ceases her determination that this is her task. And she wades through high rivers and people trying to keep this ‘property owning’ woman from something– her right to get her vengeance? Or– they may… MAY… be trying to protect her from something that the man she seeks knows perhaps too much about. She wants the marshall ‘with grit’, and implores John Wayne’s Rooster Cogburn to enter her employ in her mission. There is much talk of ‘having grit’ in this film. Cogburn is an old drunk we first encounter bringing in prisoners from the territory, and he promptly slams a door in in Ms. Ross’s face as she tries to accost him to tell him her mission. The next morning at the courthouse, where Cogburn is testifying about his actions bringing in one man wounded, two shot and dead back in the territory — facing a fancy lawyer who is determined to put him on the defensive for his willful handling of these men.
Perhaps Cogburn is a story about a cop who plays by his own rules, but no. There’s much more attention, silent and devastating, simply to how hard everyone is fighting for what they do have, and taking what they can get from a world that offers so very little of comfort.
The one man who is perhaps outright villainous, the man Ms. Ross is chasing, is a monsters – like the rest- but when it comes for him to explain why he acts as he does, he throws up his hands and cries time out… ‘Everything’s against me!’ he cries. And perhaps he’s not wrong. Perhaps… he’s not wrong.
But what is the answer to the title’s question? What is ‘TRUE Grit’. Is it the long ride home with a wounded child who needs medical attention, two people running her favorite horse into the ground, till it lies died, and you must pick the wailing child up in your arms?
Is is the child who having learned the game of men, is thrown into a pit of snakes. A metaphor, beautiful in its way, straight from the physical brutal world.
Or is it, maybe, the child welcoming the old man, who has no home, into her own, in the end. As a member of her family. Despite–
Despite the fact he is a cat-owning bachelor who lives in a Chinese restaurant.
In short, I have no idea what this movie is about. But the comments Mattie makes about Texans are pretty funny, and Mattie’s constant interruption of the TWO men who do go with her when they are on the verge of falling upon each other like hungry dogs, cracks me up every time.