Many viewers will be glad to know that the Coen Brothers played True Grit straight. The Coen Brothers did not disrespect the genre, the movie or the elephant in the room: John Wayne. They simply redid a classic.
Those expecting a faithful rendition of Wayne’s 1969 version will be somewhat disappointed. “I won’t watch it,” some have said. “You can’t redo a classic like that,” others have said. I believe that these people are fearful of the mockery, the disrespect, and the inability of modern movie makers to do justice to a western. Most people are tired of seeing their institutions mocked, and they have simply decided that they won’t participate when the opportunity arises for them to make a statement against modern Hollywood. These people do not know the Coen brothers.
For the most part, the Coen Brothers have not taken part in making political statements, and they have not mocked the institutions most of us hold dear. For the most part, in today’s Hollywood, that is a bold statement.
The Coen brothers have, to my mind, proven to be the most adept movie makers of our era. Serious film fans have a difficult time restraining themselves when recommending movies like 2007’s No Country for Old Men. We could say that that movie won best picture, but most serious film fans don’t regard that as a final stamp of approval anymore. When they hear that these are the same people responsible for Fargo, The Big Lebowski, O Brother Where Art Thou? and Barton Fink, they start to come around. The Big Lebowski is a farce, but the rest of these movies are pseudo serious, coupled with a weird, little wink, but they are genuine and always interesting. When you work your way through this list, the serious film fan begins to see that their favorite Wayne movie is in good hands.
As for the acting, I am continually impressed with Jeff Bridges’ acting abilities. On the surface, he appears to sleepwalk his way through roles, until you realize that he’s purposely underplaying the role to allow the material to shine. Bridges’ is not John Wayne, however, and I don’t think he would ever claim to be. I think he would scoff at the idea that he was trying to match Wayne’s acting in this role, or his character, or that he was trying to outdo The Duke. I’m sure that he would tell you that he just played the role the best way he saw fit. Having said that, Bridges plays Rooster Cogburn in a more vulnerable manner. He doesn’t cry, or act feminine, he just doesn’t conceal his weaknesses in the manner Wayne did with Cogburn’s character.
The Coen brothers 2010 version is truer to Portis’ novel True Grit. It is reported that when Wayne was on the set of the 1969 version, he said: “This is my show, you’re just along for the ride.” This is a subtle hint that the 1969 version became more of a vehicle for John Wayne, as opposed to a rendition of the novel. I don’t know how much rewriting Wayne had a hand in, in the 1969 version, but Wayne did claim that Marguerite Robert’s screenplay was the best he had ever read. The Coen brothers 2010 version focuses more on the Mattie character and less on the Rooster Cogburn character, in the manner the novel did.
La Boeuf is played by the mediocre Matt Damon. Yawn. Damon, like many leading men, usually plays himself in his roles. I know Glen Campbell was an established star (a country singer) by the time he played La Boeuf in the 1969 version, but he didn’t have much of a filmography to that point. I guess being a country singer gave Campbell a little bit of gravitas for playing a cowboy in the ’69 version, because I believed it. I was young. Damon is just utterly unbelievable to me.
The introduction of the La Boeuf character has Damon sitting on a porch lighting a pipe. It was a silly scene for the Coen brothers to attempt with Damon. He doesn’t look right in the scene. It’s hard to picture this pretty boy as a rough and tough cowboy without picturing a six year-old in a Howdy Doody get up. Damon was, of course, necessary for box office, and I understand it’s a business, but I think that they should’ve just put Damon in a Polo shirt and a pair of khaki dockers. It may not have fit the character, but it would’ve been a lot better than seeing him in his cowboy costume. He did give a couple of cowboy glints at the Sun, and one would think that that would make him appear to be a dashing cowboy, but when he spoke most of us looked at our watch and wondered how much more screen time he would be allowed.
Damon wasn’t such a distraction, this time out, that he ruined Courtney Loved a good movie. I enjoyed the little girl playing Mattie Ross, Hailee Steinfeld. I thought she played her role exceptionally well. The story was subtle, and a little slow in parts, but isn’t every western? Isn’t every Coen brothers movie? Aren’t some of the best movies ever made? I wouldn’t put this movie in that category, but it was definitely worth the money that we’re now required to spend to watch a movie in a theater.