Aardvark Alley

Lutheran Aardvark

Confessional Lutheran theology, hagiography, philosophy, music, culture, sports, education, and whatever else is on the fevered mind of Orycteropus Afer

15 January 2011
  Review: True Grit
Punishment Comes One Way or Another

True GritMrs. Vark and I ventured out of the Burrow, eager to see if the new version of True Grit lived up to its gaudy reviews (including 95% Fresh at Rotten Tomatoes). And while I've not enjoyed every single offering from the Coen brothers, I knew that when they're on, they're usually really on. The brothers have a wide range of films, some with broad appeal, some holding cult status (for examples, see Fargo, The Big Lebowski, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, or No Country for Old Men).

I wasn't disappointed. And I certainly hope that Charles Portis is happy. The plot and dialog both stayed close to the 1968 novel's template and newly written portions fit seamlessly with those Portis penned.

Of course, more people will probably compare the film with the 1969 version starring John Wayne than they will to the book. In this respect, while I certainly enjoyed the original, the new film whips it in most areas. The closest comparisons will come between Wayne and new Rooster Cogburn Jeff Bridges. Here, Bridges wins a close contest, in part because the production takes him away from carrying the film. He may have top billing but his Cogburn isn't the star character in the same manner as was Wayne's. Instead, Bridges shows what a remarkable character actor he is, allowing his co-stars room to shine alongside him.

Turning to other main characters, there's no comparison between the two Texas Rangers. Matt Damon follows the "less is more" path, also, and steadily leaves Glen Campbell's La Boeuf in the dust. Nothing against Robert Duvall, but Barry Pepper's Ned Pepper just seems more an authentic western bad guy. And while he's not on screen all that much, Josh Brolin is a Tom Chaney audiences will love to hate.

Finally, there's the absolute gem of last-minute casting in the person of Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross. She's the complete package of poise, pitch-perfect dialog, wise-for-her-age, old-for-her-years, smart-alecky, child-woman. She wears Mattie more completely and comfortably than she does her period clothing and refuses to shrink under the bright lights of her established co-stars. This was essential, since the Coens wanted to tell Mattie's story from her point of view rather than Rooster's from his. Her success is their success.

If you've seen the first, don't worry about the second letting you down. If you love the Duke, you won't end up hating him after the closing credits roll. However, you probably will have even more respect for Jeff Bridges' acting chops. I'm guessing that you'll also appreciate some of the sharply drawn minor characters and some of the secondary scenes will remain clearer in your mind than did those of the first film.

Before we left the movie house, I answered a young woman who worked there who wondered what we thought of it. I told her that where True Grit 1969 was a small-cast "big" film, 2010 is more of a "small" film with big scenery occasionally taking center stage. Having essentially the same plot, the current version relies much more heavily on the completeness of its characters. Whether in broad strokes or in fine lines, the Coens have painted a masterpiece.

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Comments:
I can hardly wait. It seems like it has been sooooo long since Hollywood has produced a Western - of any caliber. A really good one? A remake of a film I loved? I can hardly wait. Thanks for the review.

For me, short stories were meant for Science Fiction, limericks for bawdiness, hymns for Lutheranism, and films for Westerns.
 
I've seen trailers for the next western, if that's what it is. Harrison Ford et al. in Cowboys and Aliens. To misquote Sherman T. Potter, "Horses, lasers, and horses!"
 
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