Posted by: ckckred | December 19, 2013

True Grit

TRUE GRIT

The original True Grit may be known for giving actor John Wayne his first and only Oscar but in truth it’s a rather mediocre movie and pales next to Wayne’s collaborations with John Ford.  The movie skews the story in favor of Wayne’s character Rooster Cogburn, who is more or less the same role Wayne has done through the rest of his career, as well as playing off typical conventions and clichés of the genre.  Joel and Ethan Coen’s True Grit is not as much as a remake of the 1969 film as it is a re-adaptation of Charles Portis’ novel.  Much like No Country For Old Men, True Grit is faithful to the novel and yet still has a true Coen brothers feel, full of the exuberant spirit the directors put in their pictures.

The center of True Grit is Mattie (Hailee Steinfeld), a young teenager whose father had been killed by Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), who runs off with a gang led by “Lucky” Ned Pepper (Barry Pepper).  Hungry for revenge, Mattie hires Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), a tired old and ornery bounty hunter, to track down Chaney.  While Cogburn may be lazy, Mattie believes he is effective and has “true grit.”  The two soon venture off in the old west to catch the killer, along with Texas Ranger LeBouef (Matt Damon), who wants to find Chaney to try him for the assassination of a Texan senator.

Whereas the 1969 version reveled in the glories and fantasies of westerns, the Coen’s True Grit conveys the harsh reality of that type of life.  Mattie and Cogburn trek from expansive deserts to desolate forests and struggle in the tough weather, perfected by Roger Deakins’ superb cinematography.  True Grit has the same approach to its subject matter the Coens also took for their masterful No Country For Old Men.  In both movies, Joel and Ethan Coen express their interest in the battle between good and bad, a conflict that never appears to yield a winner.  The Coens believe that evilness is ambiguous and never pertains to a single thing (as evidenced by the open-note conclusion of No Country For Old Men) and True Grit sticks to the same tone.  The times may be different, but True Grit bears much resemblance to No Country For Old Men as if it took place one hundred years earlier.  There are also similarities between the picture and Fargo, with Steinfeld resembling the brave female protagonist Marge Gunderson, and The Big Lebowski through Jeff Bridge’s portrayal of Rooster Cogburn while also echoing his role in Crazy Heart.  Their performances are key to the film’s success and humanize the material, the major weakness of the 1969 movie.  Bridges is in top form as Cogburn and Steinfeld is fantastic as Mattie (she was submitted for Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars because she would be more likely to win, but it’s very much a starring role).

Reflecting on the past crimes and injustices that reigned in the old west, the Coens tear down many of the boundaries the often cramp the genre and make one of their most solidly entertaining and tight pictures.  It’s a magnificent modern day epic that restructures many of the themes of The Searchers for a modern day audience.  Westerns have rarely been this satisfying.

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Responses

  1. I agree, and good stuff. It’s a lovely film!

    • Thanks! I’s a great movie for sure.

  2. Couldn’t agree more here, my man. I loved this movie. One the very best of recent westerns and a far site better than the original version. I also thought Bridges made a better Cogburn and was really hoping he’d take the Oscar to equal Tom Hanks and Spencer Tracy’s record of two in a row. Sadly, it wasn’t to be.

    • Thanks! Bridges was far better than Wayne and I agree he should have won the Oscar as well.

  3. Thought this was fantastic. We don’t seem to get many westerns these days but this is definitely one of the best I’ve seen. Loved Bridges, thought he was brilliant. Nice review mate.

    • Thanks! I agree about Bridges, I thought he should have won the Oscar.

  4. Agreed. This is better than the original (though you’re right that it isn’t really a remake of that movie). This is also one of my favorite westerns.

    I will say I liked the original True Grit a bit more than you, but

    • Oops. Posted a bit earlier than I meant to. :-)

      I was saying. I like the original a bit more than you, but that is neither here nor there. On this one we agree.

    • It’s among my favorite westerns as well. I do like some elements of the original, but this blows it out the water.

  5. Love this version. Mattie’s performance was awesome.Great to see a strong female performance. I love the one armed, older version of Mattie, too. This is one of my favorite Jeff Bridges performances. Great review.

    • Thanks! Steinfeld was particularly great and I was hoping she would win an Oscar.

      • Hailee was so good. I haven’t seen Ender’s Game. Was there anything there in the script for her as Petra Arkanian? Haven’t seen her Juliet, either. To me, Claire Danes is still the best. I have high hopes for her.

  6. Love Jeff Bridges. Never big on John Wayne lol. Loved the movie!

    • I never got into John Wayne myself, though I’ve loved his work with John Ford. He just plays the same character in every movie. Bridges is much better at Cogburn.

  7. Its a rare breed, good remake :D

    • I agree, one of the few remakes that actually works.

  8. Grand selection. It is the better True Grit adaptation. I’d only add Wayne did splendid work with Howard Hawks, too.

    • Thanks! I much prefer this over the original. I agree Wayne did some excellent work with Hawks as well.

  9. Completely agree my friend, even though it’s not in my top five Coens. Very well writen.

    • Thanks! I wouldn’t put it up their with The Big Lebowski or No Country For Old Men, but it’s a great movie for sure.

  10. I haven’t seen the original, but I found a lot to like in the Coen Brothers’ remake, especially Hailee Steinfeld. Nice job with this review!

    • Thanks! I wasn’t big on the original since it changes a lot from the book. The Coens’ version is more faithful and much better.

  11. Still can’t get over how Steinfeld was submitted as supporting, when she’s clearly leading. At least she got nominated though, it was brave and remarkable performance for someone her age.

    Glad you liked it! Nice review.

    • Thanks! I guess it would be more likely that she would be nominated for a supporting role, but I thought Steinfeld should have been in Best Actress.

  12. I was a bit disappointed by this as I felt like this was a more conventional flick than I’m used to seeing the Coen Brothers do. Sure, there were moments of greatness to be found here, but the other times, I felt like the Coen’s were just somewhat going through the motions, as much as it pains me to actually say that. Good review.

    • Thanks! It’s a bit more conventional than some of the Coens’ previous movies, but it’s still an exceptional film.

  13. I thoroughly enjoyed True Grit. Hailee Steinfeld’s performance is amazing and immediately loved her character. Nice review.

    • Thanks! Steinfeild was great, worthy of an Oscar win.

  14. Nice review – as I just wrote about it the other day you know I’m a big fan of this one, so it’s interesting to ready why you like it. The Coens always get great performances out of the actors they work with, don’t they?

    • Thanks! Yeah, the Coens always get strong performances from their actors. Steienfeld was particularly great.

  15. The new “True Grit” was superior in many ways to the old one. As posited, they were really different movies. Its’ quality surprised me as I never cared (nor quite understood) these filmmaker’s No Country for Old Men. I had to struggle to remain in the theater with that one.

    • I never was a fan of the original (or John Wayne for the matter of the fact), but the remake is far better. And for NCFOM, I think it’s one of the greatest achievements in cinema history ;-)


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