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Monday, 3 January 2011

Wild West eMonday - True Grit 2010

The most hyped western in recent years finally arrives on the big screen and was it worth the wait? Well - yes and no. At times the movie almost feels like a scene for scene remake of the John Wayne classic which was not something I was expecting. Huge chunks of dialogue are presented word for word from the original movie, and not all of them were in the original novel. The Coen Brothers constantly stated that they had not seen the Wayne classic for a great many years and were going to use the Charles Portis novel as their inspiration. Well if that's true it just shows how faithful Wayne's movie was to the original novel. And as much as I enjoyed this movie I still think John Wayne is the definitive Rooster Cogburn and that the 1969 True Grit, for all its faults, is the definitive True Grit.

The one and only true original
Jeff Bridges is superb as Rooster Cogburn and his portrayal is significantly different from Wayne's but the fact that he's given much of the dialogue first spoken by Wayne means that he comes across as someone doing an impression of the biggest western icon of them all. The scene towards the end where he takes the reins in his teeth and charges at the bad guys, yelling "Fill your hands you sons-of-a-bitch," was a mistake given that the scene is so well known from the Wayne classic it's hard to take this seriously and the viewer knows what the outcome will be. Likewise when Rooster rides Little Blackie to his death trying to get Mattie to a doctor after she's been bitten by a rattler. Both of these scenes were much more effective in the original movie.

Still it is an excellent film but I can't help feeling a little let down - maybe if the viewer doesn't know the Wayne movie they will enjoy it more but then most of the core audience for this movie will know that Wayne film inside out. And after the first few frames its like watching the old movie all over again, even if this film is slightly darker in tone. Where this film does trump the original is in the performance of both Hailee Steinfield and Matt Damon who are both far superior to the original actors. But don't expect too much from Josh Brolin since his role is minuscule and I really can't fault Jeff Bridges but man he ain't John Wayne.

The ending of this film perfectly mirrors the original novel and we see a mature Mattie Ross meeting Cole Younger and Frank James. She hasn't mellowed in her old age and calls them, trash. I watched this film on a DVD screener and I'll still be visiting the cinema when it opens over here, if only for the novelty of seeing a western on the big screen and the Coen's certainly have a feel for the genre, but I can't help feeling that they were ill advised with this remake and should have tackled an original story. True Grit 2010 is a great movie but it's not significantly different from the John Wayne original.

And at the end of the day - the duke kicks the dude's arse.

NEXT - We have an original western short story, Melanie by Edward A Grainger. And believe me you won't want to miss this one.


David Cranmer said...

An excellent review, Gary.

A non-western fan sent me an e-mail after seeing TRUE GRIT (he's never watched the Wayne film) and said he now understood why I love westerns. So I think you're right about first-timers watching the film and enjoying it more.

Joanne Walpole said...

I think this version is better than the original (of which I am a fan) because certain changes make more sense. It also reminded me that in my youth I had read the book because I recognised and predicted the differences. And as for the immortal line you mentioned, JB actually says 'Fill your hand you son of a bitch' not the JW word for word version. I'd definitely recommend and will look forward to a lively debate as more people see it.

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

Jo - I think this film will provoke much debate and split viewers down the middle. But to me the original is far superior and although I thought the new Mattie was great, her character is not built up as in the original. In the new version she seems unmoved by the sight of her dead father and allows the old woman to steal most of the bed at the boarding house. In the original we saw her break down at her pa's death and insist on seeing the hanging early in the film. Also when Rooster tells Lucky Ned to do what he wants with the girl we have already been told that Lucky Ned only kills for good reason, so we understand the line. But in the remake it just comes across as a dangerous bluff. I guess I'm a huge Wayne fan so I was always going to prefer the original but whilst this one has much going for it I don't think it quite measures up.

Walker Martin said...

I like both versions but I'll have to give the edge to the new version. I thought Jeff Bridges did a great job with the role and the new Mattie impressed me more than Kim Darby. I also liked the afterward when the grown Mattie appears. But the important thing to remember is that this film is doing great at the box office and that has to be good news for future western movies.

Chap O'Keefe said...

I'm looking forward to seeing the new version, and suspect I might even prefer it. When I watch a movie with John Wayne as the lead, I can seldom shake off the feeling that I'm watching John Wayne playing John Wayne. That wasn't a fault of the the actor but rather of the Hollywood studios' approach to film-making. This revolved around a system of marketing and promotion dependent on the "star" system. It survives to this day in some notable cases. For instance, I can't recall seeing a film featuring Hugh Grant in which he doesn't play what the public perceives as Hugh Grant!