The balls on these guys. I mean, really. The fucking balls on these guys. Is there a more intimidating persona in American film than John Wayne? Think about it. We’re talking about one of the biggest American icons EVER.
How many other actors inspire images like this?
Or products like these?
The answer is....
Well, maybe Elvis, but that's about it.
So, when it was announced that the Coen brothers were going to do a remake of “True Grit,” the movie which won John Wayne his only Oscar, I was a bit… puzzled.
Granted it was more of a lifetime achievement type award than anything, but still. And, yes, I do maintain that it was more of a lifetime award than an actual performance award. He beat out both Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman in “Midnight Cowboy,” Peter O’Toole in “Goodbye Mr. Chips,” and Richard Burton in “Anne of the Thousand Days.” No slight against Mr. Wayne, but I think the other performances hold up a bit better.
And while we’re being honest, the original “True Grit,” isn’t that great. I mean, it’s a decent western and a good way to spend an afternoon, but it’s not “The Searchers.”
But still, the Coens decided they were gonna go for it and we got…
How does it compare? Well, in regards to the original it absolutely blows it out of the water. The writing, the direction, the acting, and the overall look are superior, more authentic, and far more engaging than the original film. Not that the original is bad, it just isn’t great. This film is.
The big question is Jeff Bridges taking on Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn, the role that won Wayne his Oscar. It’s not his best performance, but it is damned good. He is solid and believable and really makes the part his own. The same with Damon and Brolin, neither of which should be a surprise. But it does claim my personal award for best casting by having Berry Pepper play Ned Pepper. I honestly feel like a bit of a fool because of how much I love that.
The standout, without question though, is Halee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross. Not only is she better than Kim Darby (who was also outstanding) but she firmly outshines everyone on screen at every turn. This is they type of performance that makes me happy she’s young and will have many more years of outstanding performances ahead of her.
Aside from the performances the direction and writing are solid Coen. They removed any doubt of their ability to tackle a film like this with “No Country for Old Men,” but find greater success in infusing their humor and style in this effort. This feels like a Coen take on the western. There are solidly funny scenes, interesting characters, solid pacing and a real feeling of resolution at the end.
There is one problem. It’s small and doesn’t really affect the movie as a whole, but it’s a sticking point for me.
The film begins and ends with totally unnecessary narration. I mean COMPLETELY unnecessary narration. It doesn’t add anything to the story and made me feel like they were trying to spoon feed me information that was easy to get from the rest of the film.
I’m really not nit picking here, I’m just being honest. This is a near flawlessly executed film, which is why the narration felt so out of place to me. Everything, literally EVERYTHING that it tells you is something you are shown moments later. It stood out because it is beneath this film.
Other than that, which is a bit of a pet peeve of mine to begin with, this is an outstanding film that is expertly written, directed, acted, and shot. Essentially, it is everything you would want a Coen brothers western to be and more.