TRUE GRIT - Better Than The Original
TRUE GRIT (western adventure)
Cast: Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Hailee Steinfeld, Josh Brolin and Barry Pepper
Director: Ethan Coen and Joel Coen
Screenplay: Joel and Ethan Coen, based on the 1968 novel by Charles Portis
Time: 110 mins
Rating: * * * 1/2 (out of 4)
PREAMBLE: Doing a remake of the 1969 John Wayne classic is like wading through a mine field of public perception: one miss-step and the whole project blows into your face. True Grit of 1969, directed by Henry Hathaway, was the crowning glory of John Wayne's career (and probably Hathaway's); it won Wayne his only Oscar for his iconic role as Rooster Cogburn. Can the Coen Brothers do a better job than that?
The answer is yes. And thankfully, Jeff Bridges, playing the one-eyed Marshall Cogburn, does not attempt to imitate Wayne's famous character but makes it his own. The outcome is a remake that will not only please the new generation of movie-goers but also the elderly John Wayne fans. We can say this True Grit is also an open Country For Old Men.
THE SKINNY: The film is about 14-year-old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) seeking revenge for the murder of her father. The culprit is Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), a drifter and a "coward" who killed Mattie's dad for a horse and two gold coins. Mattie
sets her sights on Rooster Cogburn because he has 'true grit' - a reputation for doggedly getting his man and for shooting first and asking questions later. She does not know that he has one eye and is mostly drunk. And when she does, it is too late to matter anyway. She wants to accompany the Marshall into Indian country in Oklahoma to apprehend Chaney and bring him to justice (read: hanging).
Also on the trail of Chaney is Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) who wants the man for the murder of a Texas Senator. As the disparate trio set out on the manhunt together, they learn to respect one another...
HITS AND MISSES: As a novel, True Grit sells because of its young gutsy heroine, its buffoonish drunk of a marshal who is actually a hero; and a Texas Ranger who provides the bond and comic relief. The Brothers Coen not only capitalise on these characters but also lend their own Coen-style touches. These include a hanging sequence in the unnamed Oklahoma town which presents the message that justice can be swift and brutal; the Chinese duck and sausage curing room where Mattie hires Cogburn; and a Wild West where weird characters like a man in a bear suit can show up at any time.
And for a Western, the verbal showdowns are also fast and feisty, especially the scene in which Mattie 'talks circles' around her late father's business associate. Young Steinfeld, who was picked for the role out of thousands of candidates, is as gutsy and feisty as the 14-year-old Mattie can be. She not only 'handles' her Mattie well but also the likes of Bridges and Damon. These two men are at the top of their career and I need not sing any more of their praises. The Coens have cast them well.
THE LOWDOWN: Another compelling film from the Coens.