“True Grit” … new and improved?

John Wayne is one of my cinematic heroes. 

I’ve seen pretty much every movie “The Duke” ever made and while I agree with those who want to say that John Wayne usually simply portrayed John Wayne on the screen, I would also hasten to add that he did a great job of it.

Until his long and fruitful career was winding down, Wayne never won an Oscar.  Probably because he DID portray himself so effectively, voters never seemed willing to give him his due when Academy Award time came around.  Certainly, his conservative politics may have had something to do with it as well.

But, in 1969, he was given the opportunity to attempt a role that was not your archetypical John Wayne character.  And for his bravura performance as the boozy, rough-edged Rooster Cogburn in “True Grit”, Wayne finally took home the award for best actor.  He was great in the role and he deserved it.  I think his final role as the over-the-hill gunfighter dying of cancer in “The Shootist” might have been worthy as well.  It was certainly ironic that Wayne himself, was dying of cancer as he played that part.  If he had not received his Oscar earlier, The Academy would probably have awarded it to him in sympathy, if not for merit.

As a great admirer of John Wayne, the actor … John Wayne the American … John Wayne the human being, I was more than a little suspicious of the need to remake “True Grit” … remakes of classics are seldom worthwhile and more times than not end up being an embarrassment.

So, I am happy to report that the new “True Grit” is wonderful.  Script-wise it is almost a verbatim copy of the original right up until the ending, which while grimmer, I am told is truer to the book.

Jeff Bridges is simply awesome! 

His personal take on Rooster Cogburn makes Wayne’s seem almost urbane and sophisticated in comparison. 

Bridges has become a consummate character actor over the course of his career and the role in “True Grit” fits him like a comfortable pair of boots.  He takes “old and scuzzy” to new heights and had me in stitches for most of the film.

One of my gripes with the original was the casting of singer Glenn Campbell as the Texas Ranger, LaBeouf.  I thought at the time that Campbell, who was a very popular recording artist, had absolutely no acting chops.  To me he was definitely the weak link in the cast and was very little help in support of Wayne and the spunky, determined performance of Kim Darby as the young heroine, Mattie Ross.

Matt Damon is a marked improvement over Campbell in the role.

And … good gracious! … newcomer Hailee Steinfeld simply sparkles as she brings an entirely new element to the role of Mattie.  While just as pushy and irrepressible as Kim Darby, Steinfeld adds the dimension of likeability to the character.  Darby had managed to make Mattie a bit obnoxious and irritating.  While you had the urge to smack Kim Darby, you  find yourself wanting to hug Hailee Steinfeld.

As a side note, Josh Brolin is excellent, although practically unrecognizable, as the bumbling and barely threatening criminal Tom Chaney.

While it is indeed new, I’m hesitant to say that the 2010 version of “True Grit” is improved. 

I will say that it is every bit as good as the original … high praise indeed.

One thing that pleasantly surprised me was the restrained direction of the Coen Brothers, who have had a penchant for over-the-top bloodshed and violence in previous efforts such as “Fargo” and “Burn After Reading“, etc.  I thought they showed admirable self-control, giving the movie just the right amount of grit without crossing that unnecessary line.

“True Grit” 2010 is among the most enjoyable movies I’ve seen this year.  It’s always been a great story, and the 1969 version proved that it could be a great movie as well.  If you’ve read the book.  If you’re a fan of the original film.  Or if you’re just looking for a really good, entertaining movie, I highly recommend this one.

About Judson

Late bloomer ... aspiring writer and musician.
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12 Responses to “True Grit” … new and improved?

  1. nrhatch says:

    What a wonderful write up ~ you did a stellar job of flowing from John Wayne to True Grit, and in comparing the original with the remake.

    Well done!

  2. territerri says:

    I see very few movies, but I want to see this one. True Grit is probably the only John Wayne movie I’ve ever seen and I did enjoy it. I was somewhat interested before, but now having read your review, I am very interested. Thanks!

    • Judson says:

      It’s a great story with extremely unique characters. This particular cast is excellent. Be sure to let me know what you thiink afterward.

      — Judson

  3. randy Johnson says:

    Haven’t seen the new True Grit, though everyone has good thoughts about it. A long time John Wayne fan, I agree with your comments on The Shootist. I think it one of his best films.

  4. I do not feel surprised by this movie being a success. The Coen Brothers have the right touch for movies, they seem to know when to go to far or to hold it back. I have enjoyed their movies fo some time.

  5. Thanks for your review. I always have mixed thoughts about seeing a remake of a film I love. I remember seeing the appalling remake of La Femme Nikita…I don’t know what they were thinking, there. It’s good to know they didn’t completely destroy True Grit.

    • Judson says:

      There is always debate over remaiking things like “Casablanca” and “Gone With the Wind” … No good can come from that in my humble opinion.

      Sequels can be bad enough without specifically trying to duplicate the original.

  6. Good review. I never understood what that whole thing was about John Wayne (unless wooden acting is a good thing. Sorry, all you John Wayne devotees.). But I love Jeff Bridges and I’m a fan of most of what I’ve seen from the Coen Bros. I’ll see the film.

  7. Judson says:

    boomerlane —

    “The Duke” is certainly a specific taste … for most of his career he played not so subtle variations on the same character .. mostly he portrayed himself. Heck he even wore the same clothes in several westerns even though he was playing different people in different stories.

    One thing may have lent itself to his appeal. Throughout his career, he never portrayed a “bad guy” … unless you count his ludicrous turn as Genghis Khan in “The Conquerer”. Now THAT was “bad”.

    Ironically there is a theory that Wayne and co-star Susan Heyward and some others in the cast eventually died of cancer from filming that turkey of a movie in and around the Nevada desert near the atomic test grounds.

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