True Grit (2010)

True Grit (2010)

Starring Hailee Steinfeld, Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper, Domhnall Gleeson, Ed Corbin, Roy Lee Jones, Paul Rae, Nicholas Sadler

Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

Expectations: Moderate.

It took the Coen Bros. to get me out of the house to see one of these new-fangled remakes, but unfortunately I cannot report that it is entirely worth the trouble. The original True Grit is a household favorite from my childhood and I’ve probably seen it through at least twenty times, with many half viewings and random scenes thrown in for good measure. It was such an integral part of my youth that certain lines became standard jargon around the house. Imagine my surprise when many of these lines are represented within this newer, shinier grittier version. I can’t say that I expected that.

True Grit tells the story of Mattie Ross, a fourteen-year-old girl out for revenge when her father is murdered by a man in his employ, Tom Chaney, while out-of-town on business. To track down the criminal she hires U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn, a fat, drunk son-of-a-bitch with true grit. Also along for the ride is LaBoeuf, a Texas Ranger that’s been on the trail of Chaney since he killed a Senator and his dog in Texas.

On the acting front, everybody is up to the task and I found the casting to be especially well done. Jeff Bridges is excellent as Rooster Cogburn, going after the far-gone drunk with a shambling, cocky zeal. Matt Damon plays LaBoeuf perfectly as well, managing to serve his purpose without being in your face. It reminded me in this way of his subtle performance in Invictus. I did entertain the idea while watching that Tim McGraw or Dwight Yoakam could have played the role and re-recorded Glen Campbell’s theme from the original, but only in jest. Newcomer Hailee Steinfeld carries the picture and she does it with an admirable courage, representing the solid, stubborn Mattie Ross better than any known actress could have. Also, Barry Pepper was fucking awesome as the gang leader Lucky Ned Pepper. I wish he was in the movie more.

The film is very well-shot, but it’s the Coen Bros. with Roger Deakins at the camera so I’m not surprised. I will say that within the pantheon of their films, it’s not one of their more visually interesting films. It’s mostly a fairly standard looking picture, coupled with a fairly standard story and scored with fairly standard music, culminating in the most straight-ahead, fairly standard mainstream offering from the duo. It is interesting though that the Coen Bros. can work so well within the mainstream ideals and the Western genre. The transition is seamless and really shows their level of filmmaking skill, as very little of their personal style seeps in. This is probably a plus for most audiences, but I am personally disappointed.

So when a film I grew up loving is remade, my initial reaction is the requisite anger flowing into indifference. When said remake is from the Coen Brothers, who sit high on my list of working filmmakers, I realize that despite any misgivings I may have I will be powerless to resist seeing it. I also figured that if these noted gentleman have decided to remake a film, they have a reason or an angle to put on it so that it feels like a Coen version of the story. When they finally decided to work from material that wasn’t theirs in 2007, the resulting No Country For Old Men quickly became one of my favorite films of all time. Obviously, that’s a hard act to follow but throughout the runtime of True Grit I kept searching for that spark, that reason why they made the film. Honestly, I never found it.

What sets it apart from other remakes though is that this is actually a pretty good movie. It’s just not for me. There’s a lot more subtle, dark humor here than there was in the original, which was very much appreciated, but I’m too closely intertwined in the original’s fabric to look at this version in any way but comparison. Countless times throughout True Grit I found my mind wandering back to how much I enjoyed A Serious Man, last year’s Coen Bros. film. That pretty much sums up my opinion of True Grit. If they had chosen to remake a John Wayne film I was less familiar with, there’s no doubt I would have enjoyed it more, but since they didn’t I am stuck appreciating this great modern western from afar without really being able to lose myself and enjoy it fully.

In any case, it’s a good film that audiences unfamiliar with the story will likely enjoy and look to as proof that good Westerns are still possible. Don’t let me discourage you from seeing it. If you are familiar with the original though, it’s pointless. It’s good, I liked it. But it’s pointless.

14 comments to True Grit (2010)

  • I am not familiar with the original, and I like Matt Damon and Jeff Bridges, so maybe I will give this a go.

    BTW have you guys ever written a review on Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time in the West? Or the Fist Full of Dollars trilogy? I have just watched these and enjoyed them – I just loved Once Upon A Time…

    • Yeah it’s a good movie, so if you haven’t seen the original you’ll probably enjoy it.

      Once Upon a Time in the West is one of my most favorite of movies and the Dollars trilogy is also a long-time favorite. Haven’t done reviews of them yet, but I’m sure they’ll come around at some point. Glad you enjoyed them!

  • Mike_D

    Wow… pointless. I’m not familiar with the original but I was worried that this might have been the case. It looks like it may lack a life of its own. You also note how nice it is to have modern Westerns be produced… have you seen this?

    I haven’t, but the trailer is AWESOME!

    What really brought me here is the topic of Matt Damon (I know, I know, a stretch, but I don’t get much chance to bring this up with you in person and this venue seems to work out in it’s place… or maybe you can install a simple forum for general discussion and review recommendations???). Hey, don’t you think we no longer have a need for a Wolverine series of movies since we got the Bourne movies (did I already run this by you)? Those Bourne movies were the greatest Wolverine screen adaptions that can ever be made. Noir-ish, existential anti-hero feel; memory blocked of his passed; experimental super killer program (Weapon X Program); globe-trotting and worldy; they killed his girlfriend; killer instinct fighting skills… Those movies were Wolverine to the max! I’m actually quite satisfied and not wanting for an adaptation.

    • Well, if you haven’t seen the original, then there is probably a point to seeing it. It’s lost on me though. I don’t think this will win over non-Western fans though.

      I suppose I could get a forum going for random discussions if you think it’s necessary. I don’t think I have the traffic to warrant it.

      You have mentioned very briefly the Bourne/Wolverine connection, but never in such detail. Your points on it are spot-on though and I totally see what you’re saying. I’ll have to re-watch those movies with Wolverine in mind. I never did see the third one.

  • I’ve never seen the Wolverine movies but I absolutely love the Bourne Trilogy – just so beautifully made.

    And, Will and Fitz, since leaving my last comment I have found out that a cinema here in Melbourne will be showing Once Upon A Time In The West on the big screen in February, so I will definitely try to get along to see that

  • I watched this last night, Will, and I have to say I found your comments regarding the “look” of this film a little unflattering. No, it’s not one of their more interesting looking films, but then again, the film isn’t about quirky looks and eccentric characters – it’s about the “realism” of the world these people inhabit, and I think it’s a superb rendition of a somewhat mythical old West.

    That said, I can see your point, but then, why should the Cohens stick to what they know?

    Unlike yourself, I found myself totally enraptured with the characters of this film, and never once found the film pointless. I re-read your review and couldn’t find exactly WHY you think this film is pointless – is it because the characters never appealed to you, or the aloof nature of the story, or what? Or was it a result of the wearying effect of constant remakes coming down the pipeline that caused a little apathy towards it?

    Anyway, well written review Will, and I look forward to reading more in due course. Cheers!!

    **count me in as a fan of Once Upon A Time In The West. Will, did you ever get around to seeing Costner’s Open Range, with Robert Duvall co-starring? If not, it’s worth a look.

    • You’re right. They shouldn’t stick to what they know, and this proves that they can do something completely different. It definitely looks good, and your comments about the focus being on realism makes me reconsider my evaluation.

      The film is pointless for me personally because I grew up watching the original and have probably seen it about 20-30 times. Because there’s so little variation here (and where it does deviate such as the ending and the Bear Guy scene, I loved), I knew everything that was going to happen. They even used a lot of the same lines word for word, so I was basically reciting along with the movie. When I can do that, it’s pointless.

      For anybody other than myself though, who doesn’t have that relationship with the old movie, it’s totally got a point and it’s an incredibly well-done modern western. Perhaps I didn’t put my feelings down quite as understandable as I thought. Thanks for your insightful comments!

      I saw Open Range when it came out. I was a teen and thought it was boring, but that’s one I’ve always thought I should re-watch, as I think I’d get it more as an adult. I do remember the sound of the guns in that being incredible.

  • […] Will at Silver Emlusion had a more ambivalent feeling about it: “…In any case, it’s a good film that audiences unfamiliar with the story will likely e… Comments […]

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