True Grit (2)

truegrit-rossToday we resume our discussion of True Grit. If you missed part one of the review, it can be found here. A link to this script [and many others] can be found on the site forums.

2. Do the first 10 pages make me want to read to Fade Out? (20 points)

The first page and a half consists of Mattie’s Voice-Over exposition about the murder of her father at the hands of Tom Chaney. In truth, the story she sets up for us is pretty interesting [in spite of the fact that it is expository]. My fault with it in the previous question was that it does not tie together as neatly with the script’s theme as I would like. In spite of this, though, I am interested in reading about the time a 14 year old girl went chasing after her father’s killer.

Pages 2-4 find Mattie haggling with the Undertaker over the price of her father’s funeral arrangements. We get a lesson in [obsolescing] Old West mortuary work:

UNDERTAKER
… The loifloik
appearance requires time and art.
And the chemicals come dear. The
particulars are in your bill. If
you would loik to kiss him it would
be all roight.

which ends with the Undertaker offering Mattie a place to stay in his shop. For me, this kept the interest generated by the opening narration going strong. Mattie is rapidly becoming a character I want to read more about.

The rest of 4 and all of five have Mattie visiting the gallows where she witnesses the execution of three criminals while searching for the sheriff. I find this scene to be important because much of what we will be discussing when we get to theme will concern the kind of subtlety about what constitutes guilt and innocence which these gallows executions suggest. Look what the three men [about to be hanged] have to say about their crimes.

MAN
Ladies and gentlemen beware and
train up your children in the way
that they should go! You see what
has become of me because of drink.
I killed a man in a trifling
quarrel over a pocketknife.

—————————————————————————————————————————————————————————

The second condemned man is speaking:

MAN
Well, I killed the wrong man is the
which-of-why I’m here. Had I
killed the man I meant to I don’t
believe I would a been convicted.
I see men out there in that crowd
is worse than me.

—————————————————————————————————————————————————————————-
The third man steps forward.

INDIAN
Before I am hanged I would like to
say——

He is hooded, speech cut short. The hangman, hand to his
elbow, helps him step back.

————————————————————————————————————————————————————————–
The first man admits guilt [he is factually a murderer] but there is [perhaps] some mitigation in the knowledge that it was “a dispute”… Except, it was a dispute over A POCKETKNIFE. Whatever leniency we might have inclined toward based on the fact that the parties were in conflict, gets tossed aside by the trivial [to the point of being incriminating in itself] subject of their disagreement. In other words, if you kill a person over a pocketknife, you ARE guilty.

The second man also admits to a murder. In his mind, however, the homicide was justified. He just had bad aim. Had he killed “the right man” the justice system would have had no issue with the untimely death of another participant in Our Great Tragicomedy.

The third man, owing to his not being a part of the dominant ethnicity, is executed without even telling us his story. No doubt we are meant to infer that justice is decidedly skin deep.

Having absorbed all three “testimonials”, now remember back to the reason why Mattie is in this square… witnessing these executions. She seeks the sheriff to gather information about the manhunt for Tom Chaney.

On page 6 she gets her answers:

SHERIFF
No, we ain’t arrested him. Ain’t
caught up to him, he lit out for
the Territory. I would think he
has throwed in with Lucky Ned
Pepper, whose gang robbed a mail
hack yesterday on the Poteau River.

MATTIE
Why are you not looking for him?

SHERIFF
I have no authority in the Indian
Nation. Tom Chaney is the business
of the U.S. marshals now.

MATTIE
When will they arrest him?

SHERIFF
Not soon I am afraid. The marshals
are not well staffed and, I will
tell you frankly, Chaney is at the
end of a long list of fugitives and
malefactors.

It is very hard not to balance these executions from 4 and 5 with these excuses from 6 to arrive at the idea that the Coen Brothers mean for us to conclude:

The scales of justice are completely arbitrary.

true-grit_-21On page 7 Mattie chooses Rooster Cogburn from the list of Marshals the sheriff provides her because he is “the meanest”. Again, we are given tremendous insight into the character of Mattie by her choice in Marshals. She doesn’t want the “best tracker”, she doesn’t want the one the sheriff judges to be “the best” OVERALL, she wants “the meanest”. Mattie is only interested in justice from a sideways perspective. And

Justice, when viewed from the side, is almost always equivalent to revenge.

The bottom of page 7 and all of page 8 give us our first meeting between Mattie and Cogburn. This is the scene from the occupied jakes which serves as the lead image in the first part of this review. This is a very funny, very “Coen Brothers” type scene which I want to quote in its entirety but which I won’t quote at all to preserve the length integrity of the review.

Pages 9 and 10 bring Mattie to Col. Stonehill’s auctioneering business:

INT. STONEHILL’S OFFICE – DAY 10

Mattie steps to the doorway of an office set in a corner of
the stable.

MATTIE
How much are you paying for cotton?

Stonehill looks up from his desk. He eyes the girl up and
down.

STONEHILL
Nine and a half for low middling
and ten for ordinary.

MATTIE
We got most of ours out early and
sold it to Woodson Brothers in
Little Rock for eleven cents.

STONEHILL
Then I suggest you take the balance
of it to the Woodson Brothers.

MATTIE
We took the balance to Woodson. We
got ten and a half.

STONEHILL
Why did you come here to tell me
this?

MATTIE
I thought we might shop around up
here next year but I guess we are
doing all right in Little Rock. I
am Mattie Ross, daughter of Frank
Ross.

Stonehill sets his pen down and leans back.

STONEHILL
A tragic thing. May I say your
father impressed me with his manly
qualities. He was a close trader
but he acted the gentleman.

MATTIE
I propose to sell those ponies back
to you that my father bought.

STONEHILL
That, I fear, is out of the
question. I will see that they are
shipped to you at my earliest
convenience.

MATTIE
We don’t want the ponies now. We
don’t need them.

STONEHILL
Well that hardly concerns me. Your
father bought those five ponies and
paid for them and there is an end
of it. I have the bill of sale.

Beat.

MATTIE
And I want three hundred dollars
for Papa’s saddle horse that was
stolen from your stable.

STONEHILL
You will have to take that up with
the man who stole the horse.

MATTIE
Tom Chaney stole the horse while it
was in your care. You are
responsible.

Stonehill chuckles.

[————————-Page 10 BREAK———————————–]
STONEHILL
I admire your sand but I believe
you will find that I am not liable
for such claims.

MATTIE
You were custodian. If you were a
bank and were robbed you could not
simply tell the depositors to go
hang.

STONEHILL
I do not entertain hypotheticals,
the world as it is is vexing
enough. Secondly, your valuation
of the horse is high by about two
hundred dollars. How old are you?

MATTIE
If anything my price is low. Judy
is a fine racing mare. She has won
purses of twenty-five dollars; I
have seen her jump an eight-rail
fence with a heavy rider. I am
fourteen.

STONEHILL
Hmm. Well, that’s all very
interesting. The ponies are yours,
take them. Your father’s horse was
stolen by a murderous criminal. I
had provided reasonable protection
for the creature as per our
implicit agreement. My watchman
had his teeth knocked out and can
take only soup. We must each bear
his own misfortunes.

MATTIE
I will take it to law.

STONEHILL
You have no case.

MATTIE
Lawyer J. Noble Daggett of
Dardanelle, Arkansas may think
otherwise——as might a jury,
petitioned by a widow and three
small children.
Stonehill stares.

STONEHILL
I will pay two hundred dollars to
your father’s estate when I have in
my hand a letter from your lawyer
absolving me of all liability from
the beginning of the world to date.

MATTIE
I will take two hundred dollars for
Judy, plus one hundred for the
ponies and twenty-five dollars for
the gray horse that Tom Chaney
left. He is easily worth forty.
That is three hundred twenty-five
dollars total.

STONEHILL
The ponies have no part of this. I
will not buy them.

MATTIE
Then the price for Judy is three
hundred twenty-five dollars.

STONEHILL
I would not pay three hundred and
twenty-five dollars for winged
Pegasus! As for the gray horse, it
does not belong to you! And you
are a snip!

MATTIE
The gray was lent to Tom Chaney by
my father. Chaney only had the use
of him. Your other points are
beneath comment.

STONEHILL
I will pay two hundred and twentyfive
dollars and keep the gray
horse. I don’t want the ponies.

MATTIE
I cannot accept that.
(she stands)
There can be no settlement after I
leave this office. It will go to
law.

STONEHILL
This is my last offer. Two hundred
and fifty dollars. For that I get
the release previously discussed
and I keep your father’s saddle.
(MORE)
I am also writing off a feed and
stabling charge. The gray horse is
not yours to sell. You are an
unnatural child.

MATTIE
The saddle is not for sale. I will
keep it. Lawyer Dagget can prove
ownership of the gray horse. He
will come after you with a writ of
replevin.

STONEHILL
A what? All right, now listen very
carefully as I will not bargain
further. I will take the ponies
back and keep the gray horse which
is mine and settle for three
hundred dollars. Now you must take
that or leave it and I do not much
care which it is.

MATTIE
Lawyer Daggett would not wish me to
consider anything under three
hundred twenty-five dollars. But I
will settle for three hundred and
twenty if I am given the twenty in
advance. And here is what I have
to say about the saddle——

I drew a line in the middle of this scene to give you a visual indication of when the page 10 break arrives. I did this because I’m quite sure no one quit reading at that break, even if you’ve seen this movie [or read the script] before. What I hope to show by linking the second sentence in this paragraph to the first sentence in this paragraph is that the conversation between Mattie and Stonehill has so much natural momentum, ANY reader would keep going past page 10. As a reader, you just have to witness this, mere child, resoundingly get the better of this grown man.

In terms of subtext, you probably begin to get some idea of why I noted back in question one [when talking about Cogburn’s character] that Mattie would be a tour de force in this area. The Brother’s Coen have devised a story in which all the characters seem to be searching for True Grit. It is fitting that the youngest character displays the purest variety.

20 out of 20 points.

The conclusion of this review will arrive sometime next week.

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