Wednesday, December 29, 2010

True Grit

Many years ago I read a review of a book called True Grit. Probably in Time magazine. Soon afterward I went to the library and checked out the book. I loved it. I thought Portis was a genius. I immediately read his previous novel, Norwood, and was even more convinced. I've read his succeeding books with almost equal pleasure. So I'm the target audience for a new movie version of True Grit.

Not that there was anything wrong with the original except for Glen Campbell. Wayne seemed to think he needed a young singing star in his films to get the teen audience in the theaters. This led to such things as having Frankie Avalon in The Alamo. Yikes. That being said, I think Ricky Nelson did just fine in Rio Bravo, and Fabian was very good in North to Alaska.

But I digress. I liked the original movie version just fine, and I like Coen brothers version an awful lot. In some ways it's the same movie. Some the shots are the same. The shootout in the meadow is almost identical. The dialog is pretty much the same too, and it follows the same conventions that the book and first movie do (no contractions). But the tone is different this time. The big difference to me is that Wayne played Rooster Cogburn for comedy. Jeff Bridges plays him more or less straight, and he's a scary guy. The new movie is still very funny, but the humor's not nearly as broad as it was in the first film.

The current movie also uses the book's framing device, with Mattie doing a voiceover at the beginning to let us know that she's now an older woman looking back at an incident from her past. The ending uses the voiceover as well, and I found it much more evocative that the ending of the John Wayne version (though that ending was appropriate for that film).

The actors are uniformly fine. If Hailee Steinfeld isn't nominated for a best actress Oscar, there's no justice. And I wouldn't be surprised to see Bridges get a nomination, too. The photography is stunning.

If you think the western's a worn-out genre, if you think it can't still generate power and show beauty in tough situations, see True Grit. I think it'll prove you wrong.


  1. Bill's right on all counts. I saw TRUE GRIT on Christmas day and despite my dislike of remakes, I have to admit that the Coen Brothers and Jeff Bridges have a winner. The theater was packed with all seats taken and I hear that it had a great opening, one of the best for a recent western film. With this success, perhaps we will see more westerns.

  2. That reminds me, Walker. We saw the movie on a Tuesday afternoon, which I thought would be a down time. The theater was at least half full.

  3. Totally agree: including Steinfeld's Oscar nod, though I'd put Winter's Bone's Jennifer Lawrence on equal footing. Two superb performances.

  4. Steve Oerkfitz9:41 AM

    Not only did the first film suffer from Glen Campbell but I always found Kim Darby to be very annoying and too old for the role.

  5. Anonymous9:54 AM

    We're both really looking forward to this one.


  6. Assuming you can ever leave the apartment again.

  7. Your review, and the comment here, convince me that I'll take a chance on paying the big bucks and seeing it big screen.

  8. I re-watched the Hentry Hathawy version right after seeing the new Coen one. I was surprised that several things I "remembered" were wrong -- Campbell didn't stink up the joint, for example (I would rate him okay -- but frankly Matt Damon made no particular impression in the new one, either). If anything, Kim Darby seems younger than the new actress, and in her way just as good. And Wayne plays it less for humor than I recalled, and the humor is pretty dark when it comes. Bridges is actually hammier than Wayne (though I like both performances).

    The Hathaway movie is tighter -- it ignores interesting but novelistic sidebar stuff (hanging man, bear-suit "doctor) that doesn't move the story forward. The Hathaway film has a real sense of landscape...the size of the West, and how small men were in it. And if the Coens are saying they didn't pay much attention to the original film, they are lying (they are the thieves who stole THE GLASS KEY, remember). They virutally lift Hathaway's action scenes.

    The bottom line seems to be this: the Coens' movie is smarter; the Hathaway movie has more heart. Also, it's an interesting study in acting styles -- Bridges climbs inside Cogburn and inhabits him, whereas classic movie star Wayne finds ways to make Cogburn fit his established personality approach. Again -- Bridges uses his head, Wayne his heart.

    Bill pegs it: fascinating that two movies can be so much the same and yet feel so different....