Its first chapter closes as Mattie recounts her father's death, how he is robbed by Tom Chaney while on-lookers simply watch, then scatter. "...when he finished his thieving he raced to the end of the street and struck the night watchman at the stock barn a fierce blow to the mouth with his rifle stock, knocking him silly. He put a bridle on Papa's horse Judy and rode out bareback. Darkness swallowed him up. He might have taken the time to saddle the horse or hitched up three spans of mules to a Concord stagecoach and smoked a pipe as it seems no one in that city was after him. He had mistaken the drummers for men. 'The wicked flee when none pursueth.'"
I am not a reviewer. I am able to say what I like and why but have no capacity for detached evaluation. This is the comment I left to Antares-Cryptos' post about the dearth of foreign, independent and original movies such as we once enjoyed in profusion. To write about True Grit had been on my mind since seeing the DVD several weeks ago. Boiled down to comment size, it says what I intended. Further expounding seems almost unnecessary.
Even though it had Academy Award nominations, the remake (yes, I know) of TRUE GRIT had so many elements that attract me to a film...the cinematography/direction, the way the landscape becomes a character, an integral part of the movie; Carter Burwell's music, which weaves old hymns with new composition, gives a sense of an unstated yet abiding peace while the action is far from peaceful. And intelligent, uniquely phrased language spoken by actors who clearly understood what they were saying. I intend to do a post about it, but perhaps that ship has already sailed. I never defend remakes. This is, for me, rare and exceptional.
Much of my knowledge of the west comes from movies, the ones directed by John Ford in particular. The Searchers, released in 1956, while told from a viewpoint of the time regarding who were the good guys and who were the bad, communicated the vastness, the loneliness of what is still, in part, untamed land. Cinematographer Winton D. Hoch, who won three Oscars for other films, seemed ideally matched with Ford in letting the camera tell so much of what motivated, or drove, the characters, especially with the scenes in Monument Valley. I follow one Montana blog writer, whose photos and text convey how little-changed some of this country remains. I do not know those spaces, nor the prairies, first hand.
What I do know, or should I say believe, is that character is shaped by place. The people we meet in True Grit, for good or ill, are the products of their roots in the land and the lives it prescribed for them: politics of the Civil War, crops and livestock, encroaching civilization, expedient and lawless paths, terrain-specific wisdom, and courage. Director of photography, Roger Deakins, was also D.P. on The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford , another example of the camera giving voice to its own narrative on the way of things.