I saw the Coen Brothers adaptation of True Grit this past weekend. I have not read the book and I haven't seen the original movie for which John Wayne won his only Oscar, so I watched this movie with fresh eyes--no expectations, no pre-conceived notions and no grudges about Jeff Bridges repalacing John Wayne. I didn't care about any of that.
I have to admit, I was pleasantly surprised by the movie. The story was compelling and the acting was strong, but by far, what I loved most about this movie was the main female character, Mattie Ross.
Mattie is a fourteen year old girl with just one goal--find the man who murdered her father and make him pay. With her quick wit and overpowering intellect, she negotiates with the town locals to earn enough money to hire a Marshall to track her father's killer and bring him to justice. Her tongue is sharp and she is dogged in her determination. Watching Mattie interract with the adults who underestimated her was fun and inspiring. The strength of Mattie's character and the way she wins over the gruff Marshall, Rooster Cogburn, carries the film. I cared about the movie, because I cared about Mattie.
Don't worry, I'm not going to be a spoiler here, but let me just say that there are some wonderful scenes where the action climaxes, leading to an emotional payoff. If the movie would have ended after these scenes I would have been pleased. Unfotunately, in an eplilogue scene that occurs decades later, I am shown the grown up version of Mattie, but this time I don't like her.
In the final few minutes of the film Mattie has become a hard, crotchety old-maid. I expected more for Mattie. I wanted to remember Mattie as the likeable, sharp-witted, bright and resourceful young lady she was on the adventure. I wanted more for her life and if the movie had ended three minutes earlier I could have left the theater feeling good. Instead, everything the movie had accomplished was undone with the epilogue. What a let down. Mattie's likeable character was assassinated and therefore my interest in the movie also died.
I ask myself "What's the point?" Are we supposed to learn that Mattie was changed forever because of her quest to bring her father's killer to justice? Okay. Fine I guess. Should I discover that there are natural consequences, both known and unknown, to all of our actions? Maybe. But don't kill the character I like. Again, I don't care about the lesson I'm supposed to learn if I feel that the person teaching the lesson has just pulled the carpet from beneath my feet.
This movie brought two main thoughts to my mind.
1- Trust is hard to earn but easy to destroy (even for readers and viewers)
2- No one will care about the story, if they don't first care about the character