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True Grit

A movie directed by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen

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Finally, a film worthy of the title

  • Jun 9, 2011
  • by
Less than a year after the initial publication of Charles Portis' second and finest novel, the popular film adaptation of True Grit was released, marketed as another of far too many John Wayne vehicles. In spite of the film's success and enduring popularity, admirers of the harsh, blackly comic novel can easily recognize it as an insincere, sanitized crowd-pleaser. Wayne played tough-as-nails U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn exactly as he would any other character, his performance as by-the-numbers as most of his other efforts. Kim Darby was equally hammy and too old in the role of the vengeful 14-year-old who enlists the aid of the one-eyed lawman, and Glenn Campbell was heinously wooden as the Texas Ranger who shares their company. Though gorgeously shot and ably helmed by reliable western director Henry Hathaway, the 1969 production's sentimentality and calculatedly upbeat ending are more than enough to make anyone who's truly enjoyed the Portis book roll their eyes. Regardless of its solid fan base, the film is a prime example of how calcified and stagnant American westerns had become by the late '60s, especially in contrast to the many great, innovative contributions to the genre that Italian, Spanish and British filmmakers were producing at the time.

Although the Coens have skirted the western on occasion - in particular, Raising Arizona and No Country for Old Men effectively utilized settings, themes and vernacular common to the genre - this first full foray into the form is wonderfully refreshing. Promising a more faithful adaptation of the novel, they fulfilled this ambition by presenting it from the vindictive teenager's blunt, witty perspective. The bold violence, begrimed humor and laconic exchanges of Porters' tale are as germane to the Coens' style as their own original stories and Cormac McCarthy's dark fiction. Porters afforded his characters a crude, extravagant, rustic eloquence with which these filmmakers are profoundly familiar, and their excellent cast assumes this dialogue adroitly.

It is true that Jeff Bridges' portrayal of the boozing, crack-shot lawman Cogburn deviates from his depiction in the novel in many ways, as Wayne's did: his missing eye (now the left) is patched rather than shut, and here too he's in his early sixties rather than his forties. Never mind that, because Bridges nails Cogburn's character flush - grizzled and colorfully ill-tempered with a seemingly authentic whiskey rasp. When he stumbles about drunkenly, hits his marks with a single keen eye and banters back and forth with his young employer and the Texas Ranger who joins their quest, you can almost feel the pages between your fingers! As Mattie Ross, the retributive adolescent who hires Cogburn to bring her father's murderer to justice, newcomer Hailee Steinfeld is as pretty as a spring peach and has presence to spare, but during her first half-hour onscreen, she fares little better than Darby, her delivery stiffly rushed and precocity forced. Thereafter, she's satisfactorily naturalistic and does her role justice, especially when engaged in heated discussion. Matt Damon's enjoyed a few roles in westerns, bringing an affable charm to unexceptional roles in Geronimo - An American Legend and the horrid adaptation of McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses; he's well-cast as the durable, loquacious aforementioned Texas Ranger, La Boeuf. Most of the picture's comedic and dramatic substance is derived from the contentious chemistry between these three, and the Coens were wise to exploit this accordingly.
Furthermore, the supporting players are equally effective. Robert Duvall's charismatic turn as Lucky Ned Pepper was one of the first adaptation's few bright spots, but Barry Pepper is at least as apt, imparting both viciousness and some rational decency to the gang leader. Even more unnerving as the pursued, pathetic murderer Tom Chaney, Josh Brolin's manner feels every bit as desperate and contemptible as can be expected. Veteran character actor Ed Corbin also steals a few hilarious minutes from the leads as an eccentric, bearskin-clad physician.

As usual, the contributions of the Coens' mainstay cinematographer Roger Deakins and score composer Carter Burwell are exceptional. Deakins' photography furnishes elaborate period detail and splendid, sprawling landscapes alike with a lush sheen - pretty, yet never glossy in its luster. Most of Burwell's score is comprised of variations on familiar hymns like What a Friend We Have in Jesus and especially Leaning on the Everlasting Arms. Typical of his compositions, bass is provided by ominous horns and many harsh surprises are accompanied by sweeping, shocking strings.

Though it hardly departs from the book as conspicuously as the '69 film, True Grit does not follow it to the letter. Fortunately, the action has been restored from majestic Colorado to the plains of New Mexico and Texas (standing in for Arkansas and Oklahoma), and splitting the difference of the book's autumn setting and the prior picture's winter, occurs between the two seasons. As before, Tom Chaney is not the young man that he was in the book. Deviations of plot abound and any further details would qualify as spoilers, but what really matters is that the Coens have preserved the rousing, jocular ethos of a genre classic in a film that's finally worthy of it. Those who have read and loved True Grit will only find this movie more exciting in its discrepancies and suspenseful where it remains true.

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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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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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