True Grit part 7











Mattie and Rooster arrive at The Original Greaser Bob’s cabin, wedged in the notch of a valley to find it already occupied.  Rooster puts Mattie to work stopping the cabin’s chimney, to smoke the men out.  Rooster tells the men inside that he is with Columbus Potter and five other men.

(In the novel, Columbus Potter was Rooster’s only friend, and Rooster’s decrepit condition could be said to be a reflection of his grief over the loss of his friend.)

Rooster shoots one of the men, a kid named Moon, in the leg.  Mattie and Rooster take over the cabin, and we get to see just how badass Rooster is, and how effective in his techniques.  Moon is a softy, but his partner Quincy is one tough customer, and this is the first time Mattie has been exposed to this level of morality.  Oddly enough, she is not cowed.  Faced with a man who would rather see his partner dead than to give up his place with a band of thieves and murderers, not to mention the ruthlessness of her own partner, Mattie does not wait outside or sit in the corner, which is what one might expect from a 14-year-old girl.  No, she stands tall in the room, still full of self-righteousness, and still utterly sure of her place in the pecking order.  She has the money to hire a badass to dispense retribution, and she’s got an expensive lawyer to back her up, and it never occurs to her that she’s talking to a man who would just as soon kill her, steal her money and leave her for the wolves to devour.

Rooster’s interrogation of Moon goes poorly for Moon – Quincy chops off his fingers and stabs in in the heart – and Rooster reflexively shoots Quincy in the face.  In the moral universe of True Grit, this is all business as usual.  Rooster shoots Moon in the midst of an arrest, then presses his advantage over him to gain information about Ned Pepper.  When Quincy stabs Moon in the heart, Rooster shoots him in the face and nothing wrong has been done.  (Rooster uses the promise of medical attention to work on Moon, but there’s a strong probability that his promise is empty, since he later makes a similar promise to bury Moon’s body.

The point of all this is, just how evil is Rooster?  Just how brutal and amoral is this man?  Is he just amoral enough to get the job of justice done in this savage land, or is he completely without morals altogether?  About the nicest thing we can say about Rooster at this point is that he disdains cruelty to mules (which will have its own cruel twist later).

(And, while we’re at it, just how evil are Quincy and Moon?  Quincy seems pretty unredeemable, but Moon dies with the certain knowledge that he’s going to heaven.  He knows that he’s broken laws, but he’s untroubled with the thought of damnation.  In this way, Quincy and Moon are a kind of dark reflection of Rooster and Mattie.)

Once Quincy and Moon are dead, Rooster sets about planning an ambush for Lucky Ned Pepper and, presumably, Tom Chaney as well.  And it’s around here that the narrative objective starts to get a little fuzzy – suddenly, we’re hearing all about Lucky Ned, a character we know nothing about, and very little about Chaney, who’s the guy we’re supposed to be hunting down.  The effect of this is to put us more firmly in Mattie’s shoes: while we’re obsessed with retribution against Chaney, Chaney is but a cog in Lucky’s Ned’s game – he’s minor-league evil, he barely even registers on Rooster’s radar.  (Another reason for removing LaBoeuf from the narrative: Chaney is LaBoeuf’s goal as well.  By removing LaBoeuf, Mattie’s power against the increasingly formidable, increasingly dangerous Rooster becomes lessened, we get the feeling that we’re in way over our heads, even if Mattie never shows that.)

Rooster’s ambush plan involves shooting a man in the back, to which Mattie initially objects, but soon compliments Rooster on his “great poise.”   She’s starting to see the world from his point of view: it’s a tough, amoral world out here in the land of the dead, and one has to be prepared to be even tougher.

(Rooster’s ambush plan, to my mind, also convicts him of perjury.  The physical evidence in the Odus Wharton case suggests that Rooster shot the elder Wharton in an attack, not in self-defense, and now we’ve seen, in real time, Rooster planning a similar attack.  Not a warrantless attack, but an attack nonetheless.)

Then comes an even bigger bombshell, as Rooster continues his life-story monologue from earlier.  He casually tells Mattie that he, himself, is an ex-bank robber.  The bank in question was a “high-interest bank,” which implies that it was an unjust bank, but to Mattie, she’s now crossed a line – she is in league with a very bad man, in the middle of an amoral land.  (In the novel, Mattie eventually grows up to be a banker herself, and never once questions the contradiction between being a devout Christian and also a moneylender.)

Rooster and Mattie wait for Lucky Ned, but get LaBoeuf instead.  LaBoeuf, being LaBoeuf, walks up to the cabin in the notch like the white knight he thinks he is, with his credentials as a Texas Ranger his only shield from harm.  This turns out to be not nearly enough, as Ned Pepper and his gang show up shortly and everything goes to hell.




3 Responses to “True Grit part 7”
  1. Todd,
    I’m sure I’m not alone in this, but I’m really enjoying these long, deeper, film breakdowns you’ve been writing. Sure, they may be few and far between (compared to your previous, nearly daily blogging) but I for one feel the wait is worth it.
    As more of a cartoonist than writer I’ve changed my way of “breaking” down the films I see this year. Thought you might get a kick of seeing/reading it:

    • Todd says:

      Thanks for your kind words. I would like to post more often, but my workload doesn’t always allow it. I could also post more silly things, but I’ve kind of decided to make the blog more specifically about screenplay analysis and leave the silliness to Twitter.