“People do not give it credence that a young girl could leave home and go off in the wintertime to avenge her father’s blood, but it did happen.”
- Mattie Ross
Good dialogue is hard to write. It’s even harder to write really good dialogue that’s self-aware, humorous and serious at the same time, flows logically and naturally, and is basically a stylistic masterpiece all the way through.
That’s why I’ll sit down and watch the Coen Brothers’ True Grit any time it’s on—to bathe in the linguistic tapestry of this faithful adaptation of the 1968 novel by Charles Portis.
So many layers! So much richness! From the very get-go, the formal verbiage reaches out and grabs you, and you just have roll with it or get swept away in waves of misunderstanding.
Fortunately, the actors are able to deftly deliver the words with the right balance of earnestness, manners, and nineteenth century wit.
“I'm a foolish old man who's been drawn into a wild goose chase by a harpy in trousers and a nincompoop,” growls Jeff-Bridges as Rooster Cogburn. That line feels forced when typed out, but when it’s delivered in the poetic rhythm and atmosphere of the film, it’s downright hysterical.
Another example: “I thought we might shop around up here next year but I guess we are doing all right in Little Rock,” Mattie Ross fires in her crisp back-and-forth with Colonel Stonewall as their conversation devolves into outright hostility masked in civility. “You were the custodian. If you were a bank and were robbed you could not simply tell the depositors to go hang.”
To be honest—at least for me—the lyrical language is what makes this film. I know many people didn’t like it and found it jarring, distracting, and whatever else. But for me, without the deliberately idiosyncratic formalness, True Grit 2010 would be just another remake (albeit a well-done one), and I wouldn’t still be excited about watching it six years down the road.
Or maybe I would. Who can say? As Colonel Stonewall remarks to Mattie, “I do not entertain hypotheticals, the world as it is is vexing enough.”