On the opposite end of the spectrum, Rueben J. “Rooster” Cogburn ultimately rejects the payment he so vehemently required to even begin to consider joining young Mattie Ross on her quest for vengeance in True Grit. True Grit is an example of a Coen film that can be said to contain less deep-seated meaning and can be described as an easier viewing than most other of the brothers’ efforts, however, it remains an excellent example of characters in a Coen film grasping with morality and attempting to be morally good in the face of corrupting temptations. Buckner describes how in True Grit the lawmen of the old west are often morally ambivalent. They carry out so-called justice, but Rooster’s whether Rooster sticks to lawful practice or not is unclear as the viewer discovers in his introductory scene in the film where he is being cross-examined in the court of law after recounting his own personal view of the events for which his captured criminal is on trial. The defense’s attorney makes the case that due to the inspection of the scene, it seems as if Rooster had approached the scene with the intention of killing the criminals he was tracking and not attempting to capture them for a court trial. Rooster was just in his pursuit of the criminal brothers but his methods, as shown in the unfolding of the plot, may not be just. When planning an ambush on their target, the killer of Mattie’s father Tom Chaney, Rooster lays out a plan that requires him to shoot the last man to enter a ditch, which prompts Mattie to question if he planned to ‘shoot him in the back?’, hardly the act of a Western hero, but undoubtedly strategic. Ian Nathan argues ‘Rooster proves a killer of distinction, each death carrying a moral cost untypical of standard Westerns’, which is in stark contrast to Buckner’s claim that Roosters morals when it comes to the killing of criminals are equal parts just and unjust, and it appears clear Nathan neglects to take into account the courtroom scene that creates the sense on unsureness as to whether Rooster is a killer or a lawman.
Rooster, however, ends his time with Mattie with a showcase of good, letting go of the sole reason he chose to accept this pursuit of Chaney in the first place, the money he was offered. Cogburn, however, is hired initially by Ross to help her track down and apprehend her father’s killer, but not before being rejected initially by Cogburn who did not believe she had the money and following her aggressive horse trading with a local businessman she proves to him that she can back up her promises. This indicates from the start that Rooster is doing this solely for a paycheque. However, throughout the course of the journey the two, eventually three when joined by Matt Damon’s Texas Ranger La Boeuf, Rooster risks life and limb on numerous occasions to protect young Maddie, acting almost as a stand-in father figure young Mattie had recently lost in her life. When he returns her to safety following her suffering a snake bite which ultimately led to the amputation of her arm, he stays only long enough to ensure her well-being before departing once and for all, without any payment, proving in this moment his moral goodness. How then do the Coens feel is best to end the story of the character who throughout their oeuvre has proven to be the most morally ambiguous? They give him an equal parts happy and upsetting ending, where he ultimately meets his demise and never sees Mattie again, but lives on longer in life as a performer than would be expected from a drunken former marshal.
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