A while back I wrote a whole in depth post about Westerns, and how there are no more Great Westerns anymore… I end on the note that True Grit may be a glimmer of hope. Does it live up to my hopes and expectations?
Story: 14 year old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) wants revenge on Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) for killing her father. She knows she can not do it alone and seeks the help of ‘Rooster’ Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), the most meanest most toughest most drunkest U.S. Marshal around. Texas Ranger LaBeouf (Matt Damon), her would be competitor also joins the hunt. What follows is a trail of empty whiskey bottles and lead filled criminals…
The script here is definitely the strongest part. The dialogue is tight and the characters all independently strong. Too many times in most movies do all the characters sound like they came from the same writer, but the Coen’s have always had a knack for making each character sound unique (see Barton Fink). The courtroom scene proves the best example of this as a Rooster simply states in Layman’s terms what he did before a well spoken lawyer, who ends up looking like the fool.
The violence is handled expertly as well. Its not gratuitous, but always in plain sight. Most the characters are bad men doing bad things or Rooster stopping them… permanently. Rooster is a man of Black and White. Either you are good and he needn’t bother with you or you are bad and he will shoot you. He almost always puts himself in a situation of ‘self defense’ where the only way out is to put the bad guy down.
The Coen’s camera is ever steady, a refreshing change from most modern directors who go hand held and super shakey, sometimes for no reason, just to make everything more intense. But here, as any Great Western should, we get to see the characters in the landscapes. We aren’t on some backlot with actors. We are in the wild country of Arkansas pursuing a lush murderer. Even during the action parts, the camera lets the guns do the talking.
The only downside to this movie might be in character investment. By the end I’m not quite invested in the characters the way I feel I should be. I mean, I’m not a complete psychopath, I want the characters to do well, but ultimately the ride isn’t as fun as the original…
Which brings us to the big debate. Wether you believe this is a remake of the 1969 version starring John Wayne or a (re)adaption of the 1968 Charles Portis Novel, they must be compared. Because that is what film nerds do. We compare everything to everything else.
Ultimately, I feel like the Coen’s version looks nicer, since they have better equipment. The dialogue is tighter, which one would expect from any Coen Brother movie. There is more on screen violence for a more tolerant crowd. But really the plot and characters are the same. The biggest difference of course would be Wayne’s verison of Rooster versus Bridges. But where Bridges can act the part, Wayne just IS the part.
I feel like in no big way did they detour from the ’69 version. They just made it… newer. I was a little disappointed not in the quality of this film, but the fact that I expect more of the Coen Brothers.
Ultimately, to answer my own question at the end of my previous Westerns post, “Will The Coen Bros’ True Grit Live up to its predecessor?” To which I still stand by my very next statement, “I think it may be a good place to start… but ultimately I hope the answer isn’t in down right remakes, but brand new material that draws on the Greats for inspiration.”
True Grit is a Great Western now, as it was back then. Here’s to looking forward to the next Great Western… and Great Coen Brother Movie.
Final Grade: B+