NOTE although I have said this in comments already: The Coen brothers are not responsible for this dialog: it is in the original book and movie.

To me an extremely striking feature of the movie True Grit is at almost every meeting between characters is that whether they are strangers or even enemies, almost friendly chitchat occurs between the characters.

Perhaps the most extreme example is when Mattie comes upon the hired man who had murdered her generous father unexpectedly. Not only is Chaney almost happy to see her but helpfully tells her she must cock her pistol as she has it pointed at him and this results in his being shot. The talk continues even after he is wounded. Part of this can be attributed to his amusement at this small girl aiming at him and as he says, I did not think you would shoot me.

There is also the conversation that Pepper and Mattie have, where Pepper jokingly talks about that same pistol misfiring.

There is also the overly-familiar and creepy conversation between LeBoef and Mattie where, in her room alone with her, he discusses having considered sexual assault -- later he does assault her (a spanking, pretty darn familiar -- he is a young man and she is 14 -- some sexual overtones).

If I think of it, these interactions happen in every single case as far as I can recall.

I am wondering if the author or reviewers discussed this -- my idea is that in those days and especially on the frontier, company and conversation were the primary entertainment and people did not let a little thing like mortal enmity interfere with this.

If this idea is true, do we find similar sudden familiarity in other stories of the old west?

  • 1
    I think you've identified one of the themes of the film: that "good" and "bad" people are not that clear-cut. Cogburn has a criminal past and isn't a particularly virtuous character. Mattie is morally compromised by picking him to help her. LeBeouf acts like you mentioned. Meanwhile Ned Pepper can be reasoned with and doesn't want to kill Mattie (though that might be due to the heat he'd receive for killing a girl). I'm struggling to think of any redeeming qualities for Cheney; however, He seems more stupid and selfish than connivingly evil.
    – magarnicle
    Dec 1, 2022 at 2:14
  • @magarnicle but this does not quite to me explain the swift familiarity. Good people can be reserved and bad extroverted.
    – releseabe
    Dec 1, 2022 at 2:20
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    I would be very wary about drawing any conclusions about what life was like in the West in that era from any movies. Dec 1, 2022 at 19:25
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    @JasonPSallinger It does. I think u would enjoy watching that flick -- i think it is a masterpiece.
    – releseabe
    Dec 1, 2022 at 21:19
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    Do yourself a favor (as long as you have time for the rabbit holes you'll end up going down) and do some searches for David Mamet and/or the Coen Brothers. Their 'types' or 'styles' are VERY similar. From using the same set of actors from project to project, to their over-abundance of dialog; these as well as many other facets of their creative genii are the same...
    – CGCampbell
    Dec 12, 2022 at 12:04

1 Answer 1


If your question is simply "does this happen in other western films" the answer is yes, at least in modern western films. Three examples of this are "Old Henry" starring Tim Blake Nelson, "Dead For a Dollar" starring Christolph Waltz, and "The Ballad of Buster Scruggs" Also featuring Tim Blake Nelson.

In "Old Henry" roles of who is the good guy and who is the bad guy are very vague and there are numerous instances of fast interaction between characters who, though central, are decidedly "gray area" presences in the story. The interactions do not play with as much "quip" as a Coen brothers' film however, and I wonder if that may be what you're after is whether or not there are other films which use the "sudden familiarity" in verbal interaction as a mechanism for ire.

Another modern western where this occurs quite frequently and is a bit more borderline towards your perceived angle is also a film which explores the gray area of many characters, while drawing very clear lines regarding others, and that is "Dead for a dollar" starring Christolph Waltz, Willem Dafoe, Benjamin Bratt, and numerous others. This film finds numerous opportunities to add a bit of ire to the conversations of characters who have just met (and some who have prior acquaintance) however, none of these characters is the sharp-tongued Mattie Ross. The character of Rachel Kidd portrayed by Rachel Brosnahan, has a similarly frank attitude and may at times remind you a bit of the defiance which is embodied by the character of Mattie Ross and there are some scenes where this plays as a mechanism for the purpose of enhancing the dialogue in her interactions with, mainly, Chrisolph Waltz - a character whom she has just met, but who is tasked with retrieving her back to her husband from whom she has taken flight.

Without giving away major plot points I can't really cite specific examples, but I would say both films are worth watching if western is a genre you enjoy, and if your interest is mostly the familiar interaction in characters who have only recently met.

If you are looking for dialogue which plays with Coen brothers style direction you might set your sights towards "The Ballad of Buster Scruggs" which is also a western directed by the Coen brothers, starring among others Tim Blake Nelson, Liam Neeson, Tom Waits and Zoe Kazan. It has a different tone than the other films which do not "ire for the sake of irony", and it is billed as "Six tales of life and violence in the Old West, following a singing gunslinger, a bank robber, a traveling impresario, an elderly prospector, a wagon train, and a perverse pair of bounty hunters." You may also find some of what you're looking for in there - but again, it's hard to answer this type of question directly without spoiling films I assume you have not seen.

  • I think this strengthens my argument that this is a Coen brothers device. Both of the non-Coen brothers movies you cite come well after True Grit and Buster Scruggs. Dec 9, 2022 at 18:52
  • @JasonPSallinger: I have said already, the original film and the book have this dialog also --- IT IS PLAINLY not a "Coen Brothers device." Maybe, Jason, you could read the book and/or watch the original or troll someone else' questions besides mine.
    – releseabe
    Dec 9, 2022 at 19:23
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    I don't want to take sides but the device existed long before blood simple came along, and while I am sure I have seen it used in older western films, I merely can not, off the top of my head, cite a pre-modern era western which specifically contributes to OP's inquiry so I'm sticking to what I can confirm. There is no question the Coen brothers use the mechanism across multiple genres, and it is one of their signatures, but I don't believe it is necessarily relevant to OP's intent.
    – shigginpit
    Dec 9, 2022 at 19:30

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