Good enough to watch, though with occasional boredom and frequent dejavu
Jun 23, 2011 (Updated Jun 26, 2011)
Review by Stephen Murray
Rated a Very Helpful Review
User Rating: Excellent
Pros:Bridges, Steinfeld, panoramas
Cons:setting of the panoramas is wrong
The Bottom Line: Despite much good work, with no new take on the story(/ies) the bottom line is "pointless remake," a contemporary Hollywood specialty
Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot.
Recommend this product?
Though I was suitably impressed by the bleak Coen brother’s (Ethan and Joel) Oscar-winning adaptation of No Country for Old Men (2007), when I heard that they were going to readapt Charles Portis’s True Grit, I thought “another pointless remake.” The result is far superior of Gus Van Sant's color version “Psycho,” or the Coens' own "The Ladykillers," but that would be very faint praise, like saying it’s better than “A Serious Man.” I think the Coen brothers’ version is good, but neither as entertaining nor as memorable as Henry Hathaway’s 1969 version in which John Wayne won an Oscar as the aged and whisky-soaked Marshall “Rooster” Cogburn.
Though the legalistic girl, Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld this time, Kim Darby before) is both the narrator and the protagonist, “Rooster” is the most vivid character. Jeff Bridges has played a trickster or two and a slacker or four in his four decades on screen, not least in the Coen brothers’ 1998 “The Big Lebowski.” Bridges brings resonances of a stoner to the part. John Wayne came to the part with a long string of laconic heroes against which to set off his shiftless and quite loquacious Rooster. In “True Grit” Wayne got to play a part of a man of some competence who needed to be dried out and motivated to go into action: the showy Dean Martin part in “Rio Bravo” that was repeated by Robert Mitchum in “El Dorado.” (Hawks famously showed/surprised John Ford by showing that Wayne could act in “Red River,” and Ford cast him as an over-the-edge obsessive in “The Searchers,” another movie showing there was more than the benign good guy in Wayne’s repertoire.) As “Rooster” Cogburn (twice), Wayne reveled in playing the Dean Martin role.
Jeff Bridges looks like he enjoyed himself in the crotchety role, being badgered to do the right thing by little Mattie Ross. It is a good thing that Bridges’s persona has quite a bit of geniality, ‘cause the part the Coens wrote for him is not sympathetic. And he cannot charge with the reins between his teeth (which is admittedly absurd) with two guns blazing on a par with John Wayne. Bridges does not have the reservoir of glee nor is his icon one of a man on a horse, as Wayne’s is and was.
Though I first noticed Matt Damon in a western (Geronimo), he looks less comfortable than Glen Campell did as the pompous LaBoeuf, the bounty hunter who also is in pursuit of Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin this time, the more sinister Jeff Corey in 1969). Neither Dakin Matthews nor Barry Pepper can eclipse the memories of Strother Martin an Robert Duvall in the 1969 version. Pepper, indeed, seems to be imitating Duvall.(How anyone can claim that the 2010 movie is more of a character study than the 1969 one puzzles me. The characters in the 1969 one were more interesting IMO, and neither one shows us from where Mattie’s pluck or familiarity with lawbooks derived. Neither shows the birth family she left (albeit on a mission she considered one of filial piety) to form an ad hoc one on horseback through hostile country (no country for a young woman?)
Though the Coen brothers may have gone back to the book, if they did, they selected a lot of he same dialogue lines (especially in the first half of the movie) and came up with similar camera angles for the shootout at the cabin. Snakes are very vivid in the cave scene, but I may have repressed memory of those in the Hathaway movie.
The Coen brothers version has more before and after the hunt (in less running time: 110 minutes in contrast to 128), but despite claiming to be more faithful to the book manage to occlude Rooster’s motivation, which is not the $50 or aiding the scrappy girl, but hunting down Ned Pepper — with whom Chaney hooks up in Indian territory Oh yes, and the Coen brothers’ version is no more geographically correct than Hathaway’s. The book is set in Arkansas into northern Oklahoma, an area which does not look like the New Mexico that was right for “No Country for Old Men “ and to which the Coen brothers returned for their “True Grit.” (The 1969 version was also geographically wrote, shot mostly in Colorado, though dipping down into Durango in Mexico and to eastern California.)
Both films had the service of great cinematographers: Hathaway had Lucien Ballard, the Coens again used Roger Deakins. Despite the ornate King James Bible-inflected Portis dialogue, I don’t believe that either version presents the West (is Arkansas part of “the West”? I think not!) as “it really was.”? Probably it was more like “Deadwood”: nasty, brutish, and mostly dull. Neither screen adaptation of “True Grit” is dull (though I was sometimes bored watching the 2010 version). Not surprisingly ("Raising Arizona" or the wood-chipper in "Fargo"), the Coen version is more brutish, though the wounded Rooster carries Mattie in both.
The DVD only includes the theatrical trailer. I’d like to see the BluRay feature on Portis, despite being irritated by its subtitle, “The Greatest Writer You've Never Heard Of." I’d not only heard of him, but read two of his novels (Norwood and Gringos though not True Grit, IMMO there’s more than enough comparison here between the two movies without a book vs. screenplay one!) The BluRay has other bonus features, but the Coen brothers don’t do commentary tracks.
©2011, Stephen O. Murray
And though in the wrong part, the movie was Made in America (II) by American writers, directors, actors.
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