Top 100 American Movie Quotes of the 21st Century: #99

The actor:Jeff Bridges
The character:Rooster Cogburn
The film:True Grit
The quote:If they wanted a decent funeral, they should have got themselves killed in summer.”

Mattie Ross asks the local sheriff his opinion as to who the best marshal is. The sheriff thinks about it aloud, because there are certainly several ways to approach what makes the “best” marshal. The best tracker is Waters, the meanest is Cogburn, the best is Quinn, “as straight as string.” The sheriff recommends Quinn to Mattie, who asks instead, “Where can I find this Rooster?” Rooster is tough, and has the grit that everyone talks about. He is rude, too, in virtually every definition of the word. He is impolite, sudden, sturdy, and unsophisticated. It’s the bad manners that by and large annoy Mattie, the impoliteness that doesn’t much suit a young woman who, for all her stubbornness, has not been raised by wolves. The meanness that attracts her to Rooster as a bounty hunter in the first place is not seen nearly as often, but in one case she is shocked. We told those men we’d bury them, she says aghast. Rooster, speaking practically even more than he is speaking lazily or smugly, replies that people who want to be buried ought to do it when the ground isn’t too frozen to dig into.

I’ll go ahead and spoil this, although I don’t think it ought to come as much of a surprise. Eight quotes out of these 100 are from Coen Brothers movies, or, for the mathematically inclined, that’s 1.25 Casablancas. The language of True Grit is not as instantly quotable as some of the other films that the Coens have brought to bear in the 21st Century, but there’s something at once overdone and undercooked about it, like a potato charred to crunchy on the outside and still starchy and hard in the middle.

It is also too bad for True Grit that I’ve excluded joke setups followed by joke punchlines, because I love the answer Rooster Cogburn gives to Mattie when she asks why some people have hanged a man so high above the ground. “I do not know,” Rooster says, rumbling each of the words individually. “Possibly in the belief it would make him more dead.” Another close call for True Grit was the immortal, relatable expression of discomfort that a hidden Rooster speaks to Mattie: “The jakes is occupied.” Other people besides Jeff Bridges get good lines in this movie. Hailee Steinfeld’s crisp delivery makes a lot of her lines, including that opener about people not giving it credence, etc, and people from Matt Damon to Domnhall Gleeson to Dakin Matthews. I’ve shown this film at movie club before, and the kids’ favorite part was absolutely the moment where Matthews realizes he’s in the midst of another harrowing negotiation with Steinfeld and stammers, “Are we trading again?”

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