Post “99.5” – Carter Burwell’s ‘True Grit’ Score

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.

0 thoughts on “Post “99.5” – Carter Burwell’s ‘True Grit’ Score

  1. Hi — delighted to read your post; my family has a similar tradition of Xmas films, and we all departed this one with the delightful score still in our ears. I was greatly disappointed at the Academy’s decision on the eligibility of the score, and posted on this on my own blog here. It’s downloadable on iTunes, as is by far my favourite score of 2010.

  2. When I wrote that I they hadn’t announced the eligibility of it, but I’m not surprised about it or Mansell’s wonderful score for Black Swan. I know, though, that I’ll probably be dissapointed by many of the nominees this year because I would be shocked if either Tron Legacy or Social Network (two of my favorite score this year) are nominated because of the “two composer” rule which kept Zimmer and Newton Howard’s score for The Dark Knight out a few year ago. There have been so many score in the last 5-10 years not nominated becuase of the Academy’s short-sighted rules. Do we disqualify actors for copying styles and mannerisms of pervious actors?

  3. This is so uninteresting. Why do you think that people desire to read your ramblings? The film is an interesting event and work of art and a thing of integrity and passion. You really think that everything of this sort in the world needs you to capitalize on it?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.