Saturday, January 8, 2011


Here's a simple fairy tale, the story of a brave young girl who tricks a knight and mean one-eyed giant into making a quest with her into a dangerous land… now if you make it a western; with guns and horses... this fairy tale becomes True Grit.

First let me say that I’m extremely happy that the Coen brothers have made what looks like a hit western (you see Hollywood, it happens with the right talent!) But, I must admit when I first saw a post on Facebook, that True Grit was being remade I thought it was a joke? How anyone could have the sand to remake John Wayne’s Oscar winning western? When I found out it was being done by the Coen brothers and starring, the greatest underrated actor living today; Jeff Bridges! Well sir, if anyone was gonna take a crack at this… well, I curious to say the least?  I had been hearing the great reviews of the "New Grit", and all of its performances. This was the one film that I was waiting to see this holiday season, so New Years day off I went.

Now, I’ve been hearing how the new film was more true to the book; I had read the book many years ago and thought that the original picture was pretty damn close? The books author, Charles Portis supposedly wrote Rooster Cogburn with Wayne in mind (I do recall that Portis described him as looking like President Grover Cleveland?)  For those not familiar with the original film (or have never scene a western; shame on you!) 

The Showdown

 As the new Cogburn, Bridges does make the character his own; where as Duke Wayne (yeah, I can call him that!) played Rooster as a drunken bull in a China shop, a fearless rascal who couldn’t give a shit what anyone thought of him. But deep down, he’s kinda got a big teddy bear quality to him, (the kinda through back to the roles actor Wallace Berry used to play that 30's... anyone remember him?) But if a bad man crossed paths with Wayne's Rooster, he's wouldn't think twice to shoot him dead for a reward. Bridges plays Rooster with melancholy, he’s tough and mean and a little lost (kinda like a homeless man on Venice Beach or Nick Nolte?) his adventure with Mattie seems to be the just the right thing for him, something to get him out of his sunken bed. His Rooster mumbles and grumbles, as apposed to Wayne’s distinctive growl. As stated earlier the dialogue in both films at times is almost the same word for word... it's so interesting to compare the two wonderful performances.

One of the big changes from the 1969 version is the casting of age appropriate actress to play the young girl who is the catalyst of the manhunt for her father’s murderer. Newcomer Hailee Steinfeld really shines in the role originally played with impish gusto by Kim Darby (who was 21 at the time, hey it worked back in 69!)  


But, I say the biggest change is the films cinematography, (with the exception of a couple scenes that have      that Coen touch... you'll see...) shadow and light master Roger Deakins and the Coen’s wisely decide to have much of the films action moved to night (and the daylight scenes are shot in muted flat colors.) This move does at times give it (in my opinion) a storybook feel to it... (perhaps a Grimm fairy tale?) TG's original cinematographer, the master Lucien Ballard (The Wild Bunch) and veteran director Henry Hathaway's (who in real life, may have been the most like the fictional Rooster Cogburn) version was shot in the lush western state of Colorado.This give's the comparison almost a night and day feel. True Grit also offers fine performances by Matt Damon as La Boeuf, the Texas Ranger who joins the the two in the hunt for the killer Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin.) The two respectfully take over for the original players; Glen Cambell and Jeff Corey. I must say that if you've never scene the original picture, it featured great memorable supporting performances by scene stealing Strother Martin and a couple young actors named; Robert Duvall and Dennis Hopper.
I love the fact one of cinemas greatest iconic western showdowns, is on horseback (beautifully shot by Lucien Ballard) and is between John Wayne and Robert Duvall (think about it?!) This scene is recreated in the new version with Bridges and another great actor Barry Pepper as outlaw Lucky Ned Pepper (did he even have to read for the part? Think about it!) It's good, but it misses the bravado that Wayne gave it. The film's a love  story, about two tough minded characters, both who end up having "true grit." Look, you can probably guess which version I prefer? Hey, I was amazed by Peter Jackson's version of King Kong (another great American fairy tale) but I still ultimately dig the old noir King Kong the best. Like I said, I'm glad the Coen's made a western... I hope that this won't be their last... they're kinda getting the hang of it! GO SEE TRUE GRIT PILGRIM... then revisit the ORIGINAL!



  1. You got the fairy tale part absolutely right. I am surprised none of the major critics have commented on this, given that we have so few truly "American" fairy tales (The Wizard of Oz is about the only one, and now True Grit). In formal analysis of fairy tales, the fair maiden is part of the razors edge sexual/adolescent journey, faces clear cut challenges and tests, and has her champions. In TG, is it any surprise that the epilogue notes she never married- she had been "imprinted" by three amazing men (her father, Rooster, and the Ranger) at a time when young girls form their ideas about what men are; who could ever live up to that, much less make a fair match for her character?
    It is altogether one of the few films I would share with a daughter, and continue to enjoy myself.

  2. Dear Carol,
    Thank you so much for taking the time to give me your wonderful feedback... I concur with your analysis!