In the longstanding tradition of my family, Christmas day is spent, in part, at the local multiplex, and this year was no different. Today, we took in the latest Coen Bros.’ picture True Grit, based on the same novel that gave rise to the John Wayne picture which I have not seen. The film features a haunting and beautiful score by longtime Coen Bros. collaborator Carter Burwell which might be left behind come Oscar time because of the annoying Academy rules.
Burwell’s score is melodically based on a number of Christian hymns, most notably “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.” The melody is used as a musical analogue for Mattie’s search for justice, a stern biblical justice that will see her father’s killer brought before God’s court. The hymn has a 19th-century western quality to it that reminds one of the sound of the Ken Burns Civil War documentary series.
Burwell weaves this main hymn in and out of different variations and settings, but using a very restrained orchestration all building out of the simple piano presentation that opens the film. He also uses a few other hymns in the film, including “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” The composer, according to an interview with Film Score Monthly, wanted to convey Mattie’s church background, which is present in the book but not seen as much in the film. He originally tried his hand at writing a few hymns, but eventually him and the Coens decided to use the pre-existing hymns he had already identified in research.
But it is this fact that might, unfortunately, might keep this fine score out of the Oscars, which could also happen to Clint Mansell’s Black Swan (see previous post).
This is all to say that you should see this film and listen to the score. Heck, my parents even enjoyed it and they rarely notice the music that much outside of a John Williams score.
So stayed tuned as my next post will be my year-end awards and wrap-up.