‘True Grit’ remake outdoes originalPublished 8:52am Thursday, August 9, 2012
Column: Philip Maras, Entertainment Corner
For those who missed Joel and Ethan Coen’s remake of the classic Western “True Grit” when it was in theaters, and who haven’t gotten around to watching it on DVD yet, it is definitely a movie worth your time.
Fourteen-year-old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) wants to see her father’s murderer Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) brought to justice.
However, Chaney has fled into the wilderness and joined up with a dangerous gang of outlaws led by the ruthless Lucky Ned Pepper. To find Chaney, she hires an old, fat, irascible U.S. marshal named Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges). The two are joined by young Texas Ranger LaBoeuf, pronounced “La Beef” (Matt Damon), who is also after Chaney, but for a different crime.
Audiences must be cautious with remakes. Much like sequels, a remake has a built-in audience that will go to see it, whether or not it is a good film, because they liked the original. This tends to mean most remakes are lazy, uncreative and, worst of all, pointless cash-ins for movie studios. They are certainly far too common nowadays.
But a few remakes manage to both distance themselves from their original films and present their stories in new and interesting ways. The Coen brothers’ “True Grit” is one of these rare remakes that has artistic merit and may even surpass its original.
The 1969 John Wayne film, while undoubtedly good, shows its age. It seems innocent, almost naive when viewed by a modern audience. It presents an idealized, nostalgic version of the Old West: clean, well-groomed, colorful and upbeat. The acting style is so gee-whiz and wholesome it can be laughable at times.
The Coen brothers’ remake is a different beast. Their film shows the flies, the grime, the dust and the filth. Though there are small moments of black humor, theirs seems to be a much more serious-minded film than the original. Solemn, hard-faced people wear rough-hewn clothing in drab brown and black colors. One can imagine the heat and the stench. It is a harsh, gritty and at times brutal film, but one that feels more authentic than the sanitized, clean-shaven John Wayne film.
Bridges’ version of Cogburn seems older and gruffer than Wayne’s. He is gray-haired, unwashed and although he is getting old, he is still lethal when he needs to be. It is implied several times in the film that Cogburn is not above breaking rules and ignoring due process of law. He is the kind of man who is more than willing to shoot someone in the back when necessary, something that no character Wayne played would ever do. But such unforgiving tactics don’t seem misplaced in such a rough environment.
Cogburn’s gruffness and initial reluctance to take Mattie with him make the eventual softening of his character even more compelling as he slowly begins to warm up to Mattie and affectionately refers to her as “sis.”
LaBoeuf, who starts out as somewhat of a buffoon and a braggart, proves his mettle as a Texas Ranger by the end of the film. We do not meet Tom Chaney and Lucky Ned Pepper, the two main villains, until nearly the end of the film, but both make good use of the brief screen time they have.
On a side note, people may need subtitles to completely understand all of Cogburn’s dialogue. He speaks in a gravelly mumble and sounds like he constantly has a wad of chewing tobacco stuck in his mouth. Also all the characters use authentic Old West slang that most modern people would not understand; however through the context of the film, their meanings can be more or less made clear.
If you enjoy a good Western (and this is one of the better Westerns to come out of Hollywood in a long time), then you need to see this movie. I enjoy a good John Wayne film, but Jeff Bridges just might have him beat.
Philip Maras is an Albert Lea resident and aspiring author who spends a lot of time playing video games and watching movies.