I don’t get out to the movies on a regular basis, but I when I saw that the Coen brothers had dared to do a remake of the John Wayne classic, True Grit I decided I had to see it.
I’m glad I did. It’s a terrific movie. In spirit, the Coen Brothers True Grit is more nearly a well-imagined version of the True Grit of novelist Charles Portis than a remake of the somewhat broadly comic John Wayne version. Portis’ novel, originally serialized in the Saturday Evening Post, is perfect fodder for the Coen brothers—a darkly comic story, filled with violence and unique characters.
The broad outlines of the story are known to anyone who has seen the Wayne version (is there anyone who hasn’t seen the original?), so there’s no need to go into it here. Some of the details have changed, though, and especially the ending, which is at best bittersweet. If you’ve read the novel (and I recommend that you do so—my own copy is a 1968 paperback), you’ll know that the Coen brothers version is true to the source. In truth, I’d always felt a bit cheated by the Wayne version’s ending, happy as it is.
The acid test for the film is in Jeff Bridges’ interpretation of the character Wayne turned into an Oscar winner (although many argue that it was more of a lifetime achievement award). In this, Bridges does an outstanding job. It was impossible for me not to think of Wayne in every scene, but only because Bridges is doing the same role, in the same scenes, with much the same lines. To Bridges’ credit, however, most of my thoughts ran to the contrast, rather than the comparison. Bridges’ Rooster Cogburn is more serious, and dryly funny.
Hailee Steinfeld was better cast in the Mattie Ross than Kim Darby. Darby, who likely was in her twenties, was playing an older teen. Steinfeld is closer to the young teen of the book. In any event, Steinfeld puts in a great performance.
As for Matt Damon’s LaBoeuf, I’m torn. I really liked Glenn Campbell in the original, and always wondered why he didn’t do more movie roles. Damon played LaBoeuf as not terribly bright and not, I think, particularly likable. But to be fair, the Coen brothers’ LaBoeuf didn’t occupy the same space as the original. Campbell’s character was heroic and nearly always in the thick of the story. Damon’s was not onscreen for much of the time, having a tendency to head off on his own, returning for key scenes.
I’ll give this True Grit an “A” and even go so far as to say that it was worth the $18 it cost us to see it on the silver screen.