Mattie Ross: You must pay for everything in this world, one way and another. There is nothing free except the grace of God. —True Grit (2010)The Coen brothers 2010 production of True Grit is as different from the 1969 version as two movies could be. Although they roughly share same dialog and storyline, at their hearts each film is like day and night. While the John Wayne classic is a rollicking adventure with glorious vistas and a rousing score, the new version is a dark morality tale told with grim purity amid muted hues and revival meeting hymns. Indeed, there are few colors other than shades of brown or grey in the film, which make reds of the bloodshed stand out with stark clarity.
There is an overwhelming emphasis on death throughout the movie, from Mattie the heroine spending the night in a coffin...to corpses left hanging on trees to be bought and sold by passersby. It is not death without hope, however, because of the copious amounts of Scripture quotes which uphold a sense of the presence of God. Even condemned criminals recite Bible verses while being mindful of the eternity which awaits them. Death, judgment, Heaven and Hell are omnipresent, keeping the earthly events in perspective. Most of all it is fourteen year old Mattie (Hailee Steinfeld), combining faith and action as nimbly as Joan of Arc, who provides a strong moral undertone in an otherwise lawless setting.
According to Steve Greydanus:
In 14-year-old Mattie Ross, though, the Coens have a protagonist whose adamantine sense of purpose defies both halves of that 19th-century aphorism. Arriving in Fort Smith to identify the body of her slain father, Mattie is single-minded in her determination to see justice done for her father’s murder. She has a good lawyer whose name she deploys to considerable effect, she knows the difference between malum prohibitum and malum in se, and she is confident that Providence is with her.
“My father would want me to be firm in the right, as he always was,” she resolves, quoting the 23rd psalm (“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…”). “The Author of all things watches over me,” she concludes, “and I have a good horse.”
...Smart, shrewd, fundamentally upright, and preternaturally self-assured, Mattie is the Coens’ most admirable protagonist since Fargo’s Marge Gunderson. 13-year-old Hailee Steinfeld, in tight pigtails and broadbrimmed hat, negotiates her character’s varying toughness, naivete, enthusiasm and verbal virtuosity with uncanny aplomb.Mattie's presence is as unflinchingly chaste as it is sternly determined. Her austere yet maidenly behavior, along with her tough innocence and dedication to duty, inspire the best in her comrades. Jeff Bridges' Rooster Cogburn is willing to sacrifice his life for her, finding himself becoming chivalrous after a life devoted to wild times, wild women and plenty of whiskey. Matt Damon's LaBoeuf goes from being ridiculous and arrogant to genuinely heroic. Mattie, knowing that "nothing is free except the grace of God," is prepared to make whatever sacrifices are necessary in order to bring her father's killer to justice. Of course, she cannot foresee what she will be forced to give up, but when an accident maims her she accepts it with stoicism. Even in the final scene, as she walks away from the graveyard, there is no doubt that Mattie possesses true grit.