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True Grit

A movie directed by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen

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The Coens Are Back in the Saddle Again

  • Dec 29, 2010
There’s a scene in both versions of “True Grit” in which Deputy Marshall Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogburn tells fourteen-year-old Mattie Ross about his ex-wife and his son, who he hasn’t seen in years and expects to never see again. As portrayed by John Wayne in the original 1969 version, we see an actor delivering his lines. As portrayed by Jeff Bridges in the 2010 remake, we listen to his garbled, drunken inflections of speech and realize that he’s the full embodiment of Rooster Cogburn – gruff, past his prime, merciless, and trigger-happy. He’s not a romanticized Western archetype, but a cantankerous, battle-scarred old man, one who has put on a few too many pounds and lost a few too many years of his life to alcohol. There is decency in him, although he’s not a sentimental fool.
Adapted from the novel by Charles Portis, “True Grit” is in some ways a typical Coen Brothers movie, especially in the way it finds humor in a thoroughly humorless situation. In other ways, it’s not like a Coen Brothers movie at all; although they have been known for paying homage to genre films (“Blood Simple,” “The Man Who Wasn’t There,” “Intolerable Cruelty”), they rarely adhere so strongly to convention. They instead opt to add their own highly eccentric spin on the subject, usually in the form of off-the-wall characters and bizarre events. This has worked beautifully before, but in the case of “True Grit,” they made the right decision by sticking to convention. This is a western through and through, and it’s precisely because of that that the film is a modern day classic.
Taking place in Arkansas during the late 1800s, the center of the story is Mattie Ross (Haliee Steinfeld), who looks vaguely like Wednesday Addams and, despite being a teenager, has the financial knowhow of an accountant and the bargaining skills of a Turkish vendor. She’s also a young woman of high standards and tremendous determination; when her father is murdered and robbed by one of his hired hands, Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), Mattie vows that he will be caught and made to pay for his crimes. She asks about the best U.S. Deputy Marshall around and, after hearing several names, decides on Rooster Cogburn (Bridges), who has a reputation for being merciless. In Mattie’s eyes, he has “grit.” Old, drowning in alcohol, and saddled with only one eye, Rooster eventually consents to her requests, although he has no intention of taking her along. This is something the tenacious Mattie refuses to accept.
Here enters La Boeuf (Matt Damon), a Texas Ranger sent to arrest Chaney on the charge of murder. His character is introduced in a moment so wonderfully cliché, it deserves recognition: As he sits in a chair on porch with his feet propped up on the railing and his hat tilted downwards, he lights a match and starts puffing away on a pipe. He thinks he should team up with Rooster, since he knows the Indian territory Chaney is hiding in. Mattie doesn’t want him to tag along, mostly because she would rather Chaney be hanged for her father’s murder than for someone else’s. She doesn’t get her way; La Boeuf is a part of the team. As the three travel across the wintery landscapes of Arkansas, they must face a number of obstacles, including Rooster’s intended target, “Lucky” Ned Pepper (Barry Pepper), the leader of an outlaw gang Chaney is believed to be associated with.
Although it may be blasphemous to say that Jeff Bridges gives a better performance than John Wayne, the simple fact is that Jeff Bridges gives a better performance than John Wayne. Consider a scene in the remake in which Rooster, loaded on whiskey, repeatedly shoots at cornbread he flings into the air; we don’t see a western archetype but a broken man with a desperate need to prove himself. At that moment, he seems the most human. We may laugh at his drunkenness, but we’re more inclined to feel sorry for him. I cannot think of a single scene in the original “True Grit” that displays this level of emotional resonance. Wayne was effective at making Rooster an antihero typecast, although he never made that character-to-audience connection, in all likelihood because of his distinctive monotone voice.
The film itself, while telling virtually the same story as the 1969 film, is darker, edgier, and, in many instances, funnier. You might even say that it has “grit.” The Coen Brothers do a fantastic job capturing the atmosphere of a western – the hard-boiled characters, the wild landscapes, the shootouts – while at the same time adding touches that heighten the material. Case in point: The moment Mattie climbs a tree and cuts down a corpse hanging from a rope. There’s also the moment Mattie finally comes face to face with Chaney, who’s now even more paranoid and pathetic than ever. “True Grit” is an absorbing, engaging, and thoroughly entertaining film, one of the few remakes that can be embraced on its own terms.

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January 30, 2012
John Wayne had a rugged persona which is hard to duplicate ! John Wayne should have won the Academy Award for Best Actor in A Quiet Man. He was nominated for Best Actor in 1961 for The Alamo and in 1950 for Sands of Iwo Jima. He had many other awards and nominations listed below:
December 30, 2010
Wasn't such a big fan of the last Coen bros film I saw (Burn After Reading), but it sounds like they've redeemed themselves.  Thanks so much for sharing, Chris!
December 30, 2010
I'm sorry you didn't like "Burn After Reading" -- I thought it was funny. Did you see their last film, "A Serious Man"? That ended up on my 2009 best films of the year list.
December 30, 2010
Burn After Reading was trippy, but it just didn't leave me with a "Whoa, that was an awesome film!" feeling. I'll have to check out A Serious Man though!
December 29, 2010
Excellent review - this gives me real hope for the movie. Can't wait to see it! I'm not surprised that Bridges comes off better than Wayne. With a few exceptions, John Wayne was a one-note actor...he was VERY good at hitting that one note, though, and deserves the credit he gets for that. Bridges is a much more full-bodied actor, though, and I was hoping he would bring some dimension to the character. Sounds like he came through! Thanks for the review!
December 29, 2010
excellent breakdown and great observations about the Mattie and Cogburn personas. This was real good, the only thing that could've made it better was if Brolin's character was more fleshed out and played a more significant role. But I guess the Coens were limited to the book's premise. Thank you!
December 29, 2010
You're welcome. I suppose you're right about Chaney, although I would argue that, as a character in a classic western, he's not supposed to be anything other than an archetypal villain. As for Cogburn, I'm probably going to get flak for saying Bridges plays him better than Wayne (especially on Amazon). But that's just how I feel. Perhaps I'm at a disadvantage for not being born before 1969; if I had been, then maybe I'd believe Wayne deserved the Oscar instead of Jon Voight or Dustin Hoffman ("Midnight Cowboy").
December 29, 2010
Yeah, I figured that Chaney was supposed to be like that in the book. and don't worry I feel the same way about Bridges' performance out-classing Wayne's. We have similar things to say about the film. I hear a lot of people said that Wayne winning the Oscar for True Grit was just out of pity?
December 29, 2010
That sounds about right. At that point, he had already survived cancer and had an entire lung removed. He also hadn't won a single award prior to "True Grit," despite his years of acting.
More True Grit reviews
review by . December 23, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
I have no idea how many times I have stated the rules for filming a movie that remakes an iconic original. Well, if you’re one of those folks who’ve never read any of my reviews before, they are quite simple: 1) It must broaden the scope that is covered by the original film while adapting it for a much more modern audience. 2) It must follow the essence and the spirit of the said material (in this case the book). 3) It should pay homage to the source material and/or the original film.   …
review by . December 26, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
Our Christmas movie this year was True Grit, which we saw in the late show Christmas night just before the first Christmas snow in Raleigh in 60 years shut down the town.  We followed that up with a viewing (my first!) of the 1969 original starring John Wayne and Glenn Campbell.      I recently read and reviewed Charles Portis's novel, which I rated +5 for Mattie Ross's spare language of guarded emotion that tells us more about her than pages of florid description …
review by . January 15, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Nothing in this world is free… except the grace of God.
With that, the movie begins.      Let me say this about movies. It is neither my lifeblood nor life passion. It is simply one form of entertainments for me. And since I moved to China a few years ago, I barely need to pay much for it. Believe me, very little, hehe...      So, I got my fair share of movies. Some good, some darn lousy. I don’t normally waste time writing the lousy ones. To me, they are not even worth a minute of my life writing about …
review by . February 15, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
***1/2 out of ****     "True Grit" is the latest offering from the legendary geniuses that are the Coen Brothers, and upon finishing the film, I can't help but admit that I was indeed quite "wowed". I went into this film expecting no particularly big surprises; and left feeling provoked and shocked by just how different this film was; at least from what I expected it to be. But the second adaptation of "True Grit" is still a damn good one, and in a number of ways, I enjoy it …
review by . January 24, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
The Coen Brothers are not usually known for doing purely genre films.  There's usually a semblance of several genres mixed together when they do a film.  To see them do a purely western is something of a curiosity.  After all, there are reasons why a western, of all genres, might turn heads.  In the first place, it has been years since a fantastic western actually showed up in theaters (perhaps the last truly good one was the 2007 remake of 3:10 to Yuma), but more than that... …
review by . February 08, 2011
Our Christmas movie this year was True Grit, which we saw in the late show Christmas night just before the first Christmas snow in Raleigh in 60 years shut down the town.  We followed that up with a viewing (my first!) of the 1969 original starring John Wayne and Glenn Campbell.      I recently read and reviewed Charles Portis's novel, which I rated +5 for Mattie Ross's spare language of guarded emotion that tells us more about her than pages of florid description …
review by . December 27, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
   If you had asked me a month, maybe even a couple of weeks ago what my favorite film of the year was going to be, without hesitation I would have said Christopher Nolan’s Inception. I knew that Tron Legacy and True Grit were coming up, and I had a feeling that the latter had a good chance of making my top ten or even my top five, but I had no idea it had this great of a chance. In fact, it might just be giving Inception a good run for its money. This is one of my favorites of …
review by . December 30, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
   The Western genre is a perennial of American cinema. Sometimes very popular, sometimes just sort of “there”, but never going away. In recent years we’ve seen Westerns like Unforgiven and 3:10 to Yuma, both of which are great examples of what the genre can do when it’s being worked by someone who really knows what they’re doing. Now to this list we can add True Grit, directed by the Coen Brothers. As with their other films, it’s not just a fine example …
review by . December 26, 2010
14-year-old Mattie Ross has come to Ft. Smith Arkansas sometime during the "old west" to hire a US Marshall to track and bring to justice the man who shot and killed her father. She hires the man she's been told has true grit, Reuben "Rooster" Cogburn, a one-eyed drunk with a ferocious reputation. They set out for the Indian Territories, accompanied, to their chagrin, by the dandified Texas Ranger LeBoeuf. Along the way, they encounter some strange characters and engage in dangerous and bloody adventures. &nbs …
review by . December 20, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
The Coen Brothers know their way around a film. That much has been established over the years. And after a few films that were not seen by too many, they return to the West, but this time around with the clock set back a few years.      True Grit is based of the 1968 novel of the same name. And while it shares its source material with the 1969 film that won John Wayne his only Oscar, it would be unfair to call this a remake. Lost is the tone of the previous film, it loses …
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Chris Pandolfi ()
Growing up a shy kid in a quiet suburb of Los Angeles, Chris Pandolfi knows all about the imagination. Pretend games were always the most fun for him, especially on the school playground; he and his … more
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True Grit is an upcoming 2010 Western film, written and directed by the Coen brothers and starring Jeff Bridges, Josh Brolin and Matt Damon. The film is an adaptation of the 1968 novel by Charles Portis which was previously adapted for film in 1969. Filming began on March 2010 with an anticipated release date of December 25, 2010.
Bridges will play U.S. Marshal Reuben J. "Rooster" Cogburn. The character was portrayed by John Wayne in the 1969 film, a performance which earned him the Academy Award for Best Actor.
Mattie Ross, a 14-year-old girl, undertakes a quest to avenge her father's death at the hands of a drifter named Tom Chaney. Ross persuades an alcoholic marshal named Rooster Cogburn to join her in tracking down Chaney.
Ethan Coen said that the film will be a more faithful adaptation of the novel than the 1969 version.
“             It's partly a question of point-of-view. The book is entirely in the voice of the 14-year-old girl. That sort of tips the feeling of it over a certain way. I think [the book is] much funnier than the movie was so I think, unfortunately, they lost a lot of humour in both the situations and in her voice. It also ends differently than the movie did. You see the main character — the little girl — 25 years later when she's an adult. Another way in which it's a little bit different from the movie — and maybe this ...
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Director: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Genre: Adventure, Drama, Western
Release Date: 22 December 2010 (USA)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 110 min
Studio: Paramount Pictures
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"True Grit"
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