True Grit (2010)
Better than the original, but still awfully familiar.
True Grit is about a feisty teenage girl who hires an alcoholic, one-eyed marshal to help her track down the low-down, dirty sonofabitch who killed her father in cold blood. After scrounging up the necessary fee and adding a second marshal to the hunt who’s also eyeing that reward money for the said daddy killer, the unlikely trio sets off into the countryside with rifles loaded and justice on their mind.
So that’s the same synopsis I wrote up for the original True Grit because while the cast and crew may be different some 40 years later, there’s not a whole lot else that’s really changed. All the same, let’s start with the improvements.
At this point, the Coen brothers could put out a shot-for-shot remake of Battlefield Earth and it would probably win eight different Oscars it wasn’t even nominated for. Their careers speak for themselves, they deserve every ounce of credit that comes their way, and they do a swell job behind the camera here even if it doesn’t have the same kind of personal touch you’d find in something like Raising Arizona. The shootouts aren’t on par with watching Anton Chigurh run around town with a silenced shotgun in tow and the first Act does feel kinda rushed, but by the same token, it seems kinda stupid to gripe about the Coens these days or any day for that matter. These guys know what they’re doing.
So when I heard that they were adapting this movie directly from the novel instead of the John Wayne version, that made me happy. The tone of the original was too cheery, same goes for the dialogue, and Wayne could have been a much bigger sonofabitch. Luckily, the Coens have pretty much fixed all that…for the most part.
The dialogue still balances between prim-and-proper and sharp-tongued, but this time around it leans noticably more on the latter end of things and it’s nice to not have our one-eyed marshal calling his pint-sized sidekick “Baby Sister” at every opportunity. This is a huge improvement and makes the overall tone that much tougher and fitting for a story that needed it. It’s also got a pretty good sense of humor and some memorable one-liners, but it still ain’t quite at the “gritty” level. Think if the Coens traded in some laughs for some attitude, I’d be whistling a different tune in that regard. But at least the laughs are good ones.
Although the cast is an improvement on every front.
Coming as the biggest non-surprise of the year, Jeff Bridges is the freakin’ man. Yeah, I’ll say it, he’s one-upped The Duke as trigger-happy marshal “Rooster” Cogburn. He’s a more convincing drunk, he’s a crotchety bastard, and, come on, he’s The Dude. The long and short of it is that Bridges is awesome for the same reasons he’s always been and he brings a lot more character to the role than was ever there before. Not exactly Oscar-worthy, but he rocks and Cogburn’s legacy as a Western icon has only been further cemented.
And big props to Hailee Steinfeld as Cogburn’s tween employer, Mattie Ross. Doesn’t hurt that Ross was the best character to begin with, but Steinfeld’s got the chops of someone twice her age and she holds her own like a total boss in her silver screen debut. Looking forward to seeing more from her, something tells me she’ll be popping up like gangbusters.
The most surprising cast member here is actually Matt Damon as our Texas Ranger of the hour, LaBeouf. Man, I don’t know how he’s managing to raise a family these days because Matt Damon has been in fucking everything over the past couple years and it doesn’t look like he’s gonna stop his goal of becoming The Most Filmed Human Being of All-Time any time soon. With that being said, after seeing him without fail in at least one coming attraction for every movie I’ve gone to since starting this blog, it was getting old. But I guess there’s something to him being at the top of every casting director’s Most Wanted list because he’s an astronomical improvement over Glen Campbell’s take on the character. Like Bridges and Steinfeld, he’s not playing second fiddle to anyone, he gets it done well and his glorified boy scout approach is a great compliment to Bridges’ constant harassment. So keep it up, Matt, guess I just need to see more of your movies.
But the biggest problem with True Grit is the same problem I had with the original: it still feels like your standard, by-the-books Western. The good thing about that is that it’s cool to see the Coens taking a more old school approach to things, but not counting a few minor exceptions like a better ending, the story and the plot are still unchanged and the story and the plot weren’t all that memorable to begin with. Still not crazy about the waxing and waning relationships among these three bounty hunters even though their character arcs have improved, still didn’t have much of a connection with them, and I simply didn’t find myself all that invested in a story that I feel like I’ve heard before. Felt stronger about all these shortcomings with the original, but they’re still there regardless and they’re what hold this baby back from nabbing an 8.
It wasn’t that I was disappointed by True Grit, it just wasn’t the re-imagining I was expecting from a film making duo who clearly know a thing or two about all things gritty. Nevertheless, it’s a definite improvement in a lot of key areas. Doesn’t quite live up to all the “better than Unforgiven” talk I’ve been hearing, but it’s good for what it is. A fine Western to wrap up a decade that could have used more.
Gotta love that poster though.