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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Performances: Hailee Steinfeld in True Grit

Mattie Ross is a strong willed, persistent, opinionated little know-it-all and from the beginning of True Grit straight through to the end, she is positively delightful. When she speaks her forceful words - and often they are rather forceful - Hailee Steinfeld is able to imbue her with the presence to back it up, to make us believe that all the grown men around her could find themselves intimidated (even if only slightly) by a fourteen year old girl.

Mattie is on a mission and no one is going to stand in her way. She's come to town to bring her father's murderer to justice and to do so she intends to hire Rooster Cogburn, having heard that he's got "grit." Rooster isn't so keen on the idea but is eventually pursuaded when Mattie is able to pay him some of the money upfront (the scene in which she sells some ponies to get this money is a thing of beauty). He does, however, attempt to leave her behind but she catches up to him, displaying some considerable grit of her own.

Mattie is made of tough stuff and she shows as much time and again. Even when things are dire - such as when she is captured by Ned Pepper and Tom Chaney, the man who killed her father - she doesn't panic, but remains calm and collected. Steinfeld renders a spirited performance that finds just the right note between confidence and precociousness and she makes Mattie an incredibly engaging character. Steinfeld is also able to handle the very mannered dialogue in such a way that it doesn't stand out as intensely artificial. Lines like "I do not care a thing about guns; if I did, I would not be in this fix," roll off her tongue with ease and naturalizing the dialogue is half the battle for all the actors (co-stars Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon also do an excellent job in this respect).

Steinfeld absolutely deserves an Oscar nomination for this film. The only problem with the one she received is that it's in the supporting category despite clearly belonging in the leading one. I would even venture to say that her performance is more the lead than that of Bridges, who is nominated as Best Actor. Whether or not the scope of her performance will give her an advantage over the other nominees, who have fewer moments to shine by virtue of the fact that their roles actually are supportnig ones, remains to be seen - I suspect that it might but, of course, when it comes to the Oscars it ain't over 'til the envelope is opened. Despite my qualms with her category placement, I actually would not be terribly put out by seeing her win. Her performance in True Grit is truly great and I expect that we'll be seeing more great work from her in the future.


BRENT said...

This girl deserves the Oscar for her role. I hope that she does not mirror Kim Darby who plyed the role originally and faded away after True Grit.
What a superb film and I really do feel it is one of those rare re-makes that eclipses the original.
Another good choice in your top 100 films!

Norma Desmond said...

Yeah, fingers crossed that she manages to parlay this role into even bigger and better things.

BRENT said...

You know what? I think Seinfeld was somewhat robbed of the Oscar for her role. I liked The Fighter but for me Seinfeld was btter than Melissa Leo.