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True Grit

A movie directed by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen

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"The Dude" Stands Side-By-Side With "The Duke" In This Re-Issue of the Classic Western!

  • Dec 23, 2010
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.

I have to say I am impressed as to how the Coen Brothers made it appear so easy to accomplish this mission and adapt the novel by Charles Portis for this modern age. Most remakes or adaptations play around with their source material, but the Coen bros. knew what they were about to do and stayed within the basics and they knew how to make the film stronger and possibly more compelling than the original movie with John Wayne.

                    Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn and Hailee Steinfield as Mattie Ross in "True Grit"

Both films were adaptations of the novel and so they share the same plot. Those who’ve seen the 1969 classic by Henry Hathaway will notice similarities in the dialogue (especially in the first act) and would know exactly how the film plays out. The Coen Bros. direct, produce, edit and writes the script for this 2010 re-issue and they don’t stray very far away from the original film‘s outline, but it does expand on them. Keep in mind that the Coens never intended this movie to be a remake of the 1969’s “True Grit” but rather it draws from the novel itself. What makes this film arguably much more effective is the fact that the Coens give a little more focus on the source material’s darkness. Admittedly the 1969 generation (one day I will write up an article as to why the same things I love about the 50’s-60’s filmmaking are the same things that I hated about it) is a lot more conservative than us in 2010 and so, the two brothers have more running room.

As in the 1968 book, “True Grit” tells the story of 14 year-old Mattie (Hailee Steinfeld) who is searching for her poppa’s killer, Chaney (Josh Brolin), who has fled to Indian territory with Lucky Ned Pepper (Barry Pepper) and his gang. She offers up a reward to a drunken marshal named Rooster Cogburn who’d rather bring in his captives dead than alive. Along for the hunt is a Texas ranger named Labouef (Matt Damon), who wants Chaney for the murder of a senator. The trio learn a lot about friendship, respect and “grit” as they hunt for Chaney…

             Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn in "True Grit

                     Hailee Steinfield as Mattie Ross and Matt Damon as La Boeuf in "True Grit"

The Coen bros.’ “True Grit” is a testament to the adage that there are few stories that have originality but hey, there are always original ways to tell the same old story. The film is a Western and it carries the staples of such films; I guess what I liked about what the Coens did with this film is the fact that it gave it character and wasn’t afraid to go through the material that the original film couldn’t get into and it doesn‘t hold back on some ponderous, thought-provoking territory in injecting a soul into its narrative. True Grit” manages to go beyond the black and white side of the equation and is not afraid to go into a shade of gray. Underlying themes of "how people can change", reflections on vengeance, courage, determination and even subtle messages of feminism were visible in the film.  It almost reinvents the genre and yet, it kept faithful to its spirit.

Now I may be talking blasphemy here, no one wants to hear that John Wayne, “The Duke” may have been outshone by “the Dude” and I am not going to say it…No, I am not going to say it! The original was arguably Wayne's most iconic role and it won him his only Oscar. But regardless, Jeff Bridges just gives an amazing performance as Rooster Cogburn. I was just mesmerized by his stage presence as he delivers his lines with a hoarse, nearly grating voice with a thick accent that makes his character stand tall and real. His delivery makes him appear that he is boisterous, over-bearing and unlikable (though charming); and yet, I felt that he is all those things and then he surprises you when he becomes the heroic figure. Bridges’ Cogburn serves up some humorous moments as I seemed to enjoy his scenes with drunkenness and the more ecstatic I was when he turned around and became sort of an honorable figure. Bridges has definitely become a much more engaging performer when he got older; He bears his soul for this role and I would not be surprised if he once again gets nominated for this performance after his win for last year‘s “Crazy Heart”.

                          Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn and Hailee Steinfield as Mattie Ross in "True Grit"

                         Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn and Matt Damon as La Boeuf in "True Grit"

Another noteworthy performance would be Hailee Steinfeld. Now with her, I can easily say that she was better as Mattie Ross than Kim Darby was with the same role some 30 years ago. Keep in mind that Steinfeld is in fact a teen while Darby was not; and I think this helps the "Mattie" character a lot. She gives the Mattie character a much more breathing quality than Darby did with her portrayal. Mattie is an idealist which I can imagine would be quite hard for this time period, and Steinfeld is a vast improvement over Darby’s performance in the original movie. This young actress just personifies someone who can be naïve, is straight and very smart who goes through a lot one can take in a lifetime in a matter of days; her performance is very convincing and makes Mattie much more credible than Darby ever could.

One welcome reminder to the 1969 version is Barry Pepper who uncannily plays his “Lucky Ned” role so similar in spirit, feel and edgy quality Robert Duvall did with the same character. Matt Damon is the younger Texas ranger who is after the same fugitive as Rooster Cogburn and represents the lighter, straighter lawman who seems satisfied to dwell in the background. His character of “Mr. LaBouef” settles for notes of perplexity and annoyance; but they prove essential to the film’s plot and delivery. Josh Brolin’s “Chaney” gives the impression that he may be a tad unhinged and his brain isn’t exactly screwed on right. His screen time is much more limited than the trailers suggests. All the characters deliver the “Coen style” in dialogue delivery that fits this film.

                           Hailee Steinfield as Mattie Ross in "True Grit"

                           Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn and Hailee Steinfield as Mattie Ross in "True Grit"

Longtime Coen brothers collaborator Roger Deakins’ comes out with a stunning execution of cinematography; aided by the impressive costumes and set designs, the film has the look and feel of a story that takes place during this period. The landscapes, the shots and the colors are so reminiscent of classic Hollywood filmmaking and yet it looked much more modern than the movies from that era. The editing is a bit tightly strung and keeps that Western feel up to its final act but it has that “No Country For Old Men“ cinematic girth and power. I suppose that westerns can be seen as sort of an irregularity these days, but despite the occasional humor in Bridges’ delivery and the film’s darkness, the direction stayed true to the genre and doesn’t try to be something it is not.

2010’s “True Grit” is a perfect example of how to re-issue, remake and adapt an original material. The Coen’s were very mindful not to run roughshod over the original and they were able to make the material much more powerful and smarter. The narrative power of the original premise was kept alive even with some of the Coens’ idiosyncrasy. I am confident that this film didn‘t insult the original and both films stand as necessary adaptations of the book. Much as I liked the John Wayne movie, there is just something special about this 2010 version that it makes everything fit right. So the question I know that is in everyone’s minds: Did the Coen brothers create a better film than 1969’s version with John Wayne? The answer is a resounding YES!

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!! [4 ½ Out of 5 Stars]
Poster art for "True Grit"  Poster art for "True Grit"


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January 15, 2011
You said it :p :p :p ... Classic should remain classic, imho. As with western classic, even more so!!! Anyway, we differ on this one but it is interesting to read a man's point of view nonetheless. Ha, your review is a lot more interesting than the movie itself, as far as I'm concerned. Hey, for once u're ahead of Damon, LOL... however, he got paid for it, LMAO!
January 15, 2011
Yeah, I agree with you there. But remember, this wasn't a remake but a re-adaptation of the book for modern viewers. Ok, I get the feeling that you've seen the movie? let me check if you have a new review...
January 14, 2011
Nope, I hadn't read this one yet. Thanks for pointing me to your review. Great job!
January 15, 2011
thanks, Adri. By the way, drop me a line once you post something new since I will be on and offline after this Sunday. I'll be working on an extensive project and hopefully I can finish one for your COL.
January 20, 2011
Ok, no problem. I was hoping to finish something today, but I don't think I will...We shall see. :-P
December 29, 2010
Great review Woopak. I am usually not one for remakes and like you said, there is very little plot difference from the original. So I may take my time seeing it but I will definately view it when I have the opportunity. Don't worry about Wayne. I think he was an actor for his time, much the same as Boris Karloff was for the horror films he made or The Three Stooges for the comedy they did. He probably would not hold up the same in today's current films so like they did with Star Trek, having a new actor play the part well is understandable.
December 29, 2010
Yeah, honestly I really feel strongly that Bridges did a better job with the character than Wayne. You brought up a great observation--they are actors of their generation and it wouldn't be fair to compare one with the other. But I do think that this plot deserved a better adaptation; after all, the 1969 generation was a lot conservative than us in 2010. I think you'll like this film, drop me a line when you post the review!
December 30, 2010
William, I will but you seem to get to my reviews fast anyway!
January 11, 2011
well I am the fastest reader in the West LOL!
December 24, 2010
I was never that much of a John Wayne fan, although I did like HATARI. Did you know that he all but called Gary Cooper a Commie for making HIGH NOON? But the Coen Brothers I do like.
December 24, 2010
I did not know that. I like John Wayne but admittedly I didn't think that he is was all "that". I didn't know he did that, what provoked it? With this movie, I can confidently say that it is a lot better than the original.
December 24, 2010
The movie had a communist subtext supposedly.
December 24, 2010
Oh I see. Still not a good thing to say given the situation during that period. What's your fave Coen bros. film?
December 24, 2010
Probably a toss-up between BARTON FINK and INTOLERABLE CRUELTY--can't pass up on George I just like comedy. And yours?
December 24, 2010
Hard to say. I did really like O BROTHER WHO ART THOU? (George Clooney hey!) and Barton Fink. FARGO is also a favorite of mine. I haven't seen A SERIOUS MAN yet unfortunately.
December 24, 2010
Me neither--it's on the list though.
December 24, 2010
It was weird. It's like I barely noticed that it was in theaters. Well, I have's to go, would you believe I have to work today? Oh well, I'll be online again a bit later. Happy Holidays, Karen! So happy I got a chance to chat with you again. :)
December 24, 2010
25 years at the post office and we worked EVERT Christmas eve--usually had overtime too even though the mail wasn't going anywhere the next day. They just liked to ake us miserable as they walked out the door early and went home to their families. I'll be thinking of you, ya poor working slob.
December 23, 2010
Cool. I'm still not sure why people wanted to remake "True Grit", but I'm glad that they didn't butcher the story.
December 23, 2010
the Coens did an incredible job. I think this was more a re-adaptation than a remake; which would make more sense.
December 23, 2010
Excellent review WP, some of this was actually shot right around here where I am in Texas.
December 23, 2010
really? that is cool! I remember when they shot HULK here in SF--that was exciting!
December 23, 2010
Sold! Great review. My wife and I rarely go to movies and have had a gift card waiting in the wings. I think we can agree on this film. I'll let you know how we liked it.
December 23, 2010
see it, Paul! Most of the audience were obviously fans of the 1969 film and they were reacting positively to it. Will await your take on it. :)
January 11, 2011
so, Paul seen it yet?
January 11, 2011
Not yet but I hope to.
December 23, 2010
Damn that was pretty thurough. HEY you took my Dude Duke title joke, sort of.
December 23, 2010
now that is creepy, I came from your review commented almost the same thing. Loved this movie! Bridges rules!
December 23, 2010
I liked it, glad I saw it, but to me something just felt missing from making it truly great. It's still good though. Thanks.
December 23, 2010
I know what you mean, but I think it may have been a little limited by its source material since it is dated by like more than 30 years.
More True Grit reviews
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 . 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 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 …
review by . December 29, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
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 …
review by . December 23, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
Or should that be "The DUKE" now?      He sleeps in the back of a Chinese Grocery, he gets so drunk he can't remember details during a trial and you'd be surprised that he can even ride his horse facing the right direction and risk looking like Dudley Do-Right but under that unshaven face with only one eye, those whiskey fueled synapses still fire and if you're on the wrong end of his Winchester, your a dead man.      The Coen's remake …
review by . December 30, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
4 stars : Retribution is coming
Watching the Coen Bros' "True Grit”, you are endowed with a strong sense of nostalgia you get this feeling that you are being told a story that you have heard over and over again through out your life as a child. A story that you grew up on that you have told your friends, acquaintances  your children and your grandchildren and now you are telling it your children and your grandchildren only this time the story that has been handed down to you from past generations …
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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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