“They took my saddle in Houston, / broke my leg in Santa Fe. / Lost my wife and a girlfriend / somewhere along the way. / But I'll be lookin’ for 8 when they pull that gate; / and I hope that judge ain’t blind. /Amarillo by mornin’ / Amarillo’s on my mind.”—George Strait

Whether it be boxer James J. Bradock (Cinderella Man), Brando’s contender (On the Waterfront), or Steve McQueen’s aging rodeo rider (Junior Bonner), Americans love an underdog who keeps getting up from the mat—or back in the saddle. Behind each long-shot competitor is a back story of heroic determination.

Not all heroes are men, and not all are adults. One of the best hero movies I’ve seen in the past 10 years is the Coen brothers western based on the Charles Portis novel, True Grit. This is not the 1969 John Wayne movie. The 2010 movie begins with the plucky protagonist, 14-year-old Mattie Ross, reflecting on her determined struggle for, if not justice, then justified vengeance for the murder of her father. Mattie has teen challenges: Adults don’t take her seriously; she has flawed friends and limited funds. But one thing Mattie has in abundance is determination, bulldog tenacity to pursue her goals —grit—the very thing she recognizes in another unlikely hero: hard-drinking, trigger-happy, aging lawman Rooster Cogburn.

Mattie has an accountant’s zeal for balancing books, an eye-for-an-eye passion for retribution in an often-indifferent world. She observes: “You must pay for everything in this world one way and another. There is nothing free except the Grace of God. You cannot earn that or deserve it.” 

Just there—in the Grace of God—must rest our hope for the all outcomes in a broken world. Unlike Hollywood heroes, we don’t always win. The best we can do is get up and try again, leaving the outcome in God’s care.

The violent, vengeful 2010 True Grit movie ironically ends with this haunting Gospel tune: “What a fellowship, what a joy divine, / Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.”

Gary Altman


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