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Valparaiso Univ. Law School

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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Contract Issues in True Grit

Here is a trailer for the Coen Brothers' True Grit

 

I expected to love this Coen Brothers' film, as I love most of their work, but I did not expect that the first half hour of the film would consist of a series of contracts law hypotheticals and repeated threats by the young protagonist, Mattie Ross, to "go to the law."  

I'm afraid I would have to consult the screenplay -- which I do not have -- if I were to do justice to the issues raised, but the short summary is as follows:

Mattie's murdered father purchased two ponies from a dealer just before he was killed by the villanous Tom Chaney (played in this version by the IMHO too good-looking Josh Brolin).  Mattie returns to the dealer for a refund of her money plus various other amounts she claims she is due.  At some point, she also threatens the dealer with a writ of replevin, a phrase I was delighted to hear issuing from the mouth of the young Hailee Steinfeld, who is absolutely fabulous as Mattie.  I think the writ had to do with her claim to her father's saddle.  The dispute is settled out of court and Mattie somehow rides off with one of the ponies and enough cash to finance the remainder of the plot. 

Additional disputes arise when Mattie advanced $50 to Rooster Cogburn (played in this version by Jeff Bridges) who had promised to take her along on the hunt for Tom Chaney but then had left for the Choctaw Territory without her.  That contractual dispute was settled in the Choctaw Territory.  I understand that the Mattie of Charles Portis' novel is wont to quote scripture; the Coen Brother's Mattie seems to have focused more on the law, as is evident when she explains to the baffled Rooster the difference between malum prohibitum and malum in se.  Her knowledge of Latin endears her to Matt Damon's Laboeuf.  By the way, Damon's ability to morph from action hero to the buffoonish LaBoeuf, with a brief interlude playing Sarah Silverman's lover, really demonstrates what a complete actor he has become.

The film has other elements to recommend it, but one could certainly enjoy it just for the legal environment that it either captures or creates.

[JT]

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