Monday, June 13, 2011

True Grit 1969... but mainly 2010 (A Belated Review)

I did not see the Coen Brother's 'True Grit' when it came out in cinemas. I had recently re watched the old 1969 John Wayne classic, directed by Henry Hathaway and wondered 'how could someone improve on or even want to go near such a classic movie. However on  a Sunday afternoon I had some ironing to do so decided, as 'True grit (2010) had come out that weekend on DVD, that I would watch the "remake".

I can understand what attracted the Coen's to this story. The characters of Rooster Gogburn and Mattie Ross are captivating, the dialogue (obviously stemming from Charles Portis' 1968 novel of the same name)is captivating and particularly the Coen's attempt to capture the archaic flavour of speech is most endearing. The story line itself with very memorable scenes and interactions between superbly written (and in both cases acted) characters.

I had wondered how Jeff Bridges would get away with playing a role that had come to epitomise the western anti-hero and had won John Wayne his sole best actor Oscar. The answer was while in the 1969 movie Rooster Cogburn was portrayed as a rather beat up John Wayne (as i must say most of John Wayne's roles were) Bridges shows his ability to be a versatile character actor. Although my daughters did suggest that they had only seen him play down and outs. It was easy to simply forget the Wayne portrayal and find bridges a very believable Cogburn. Matt Damon put aside all his natural charm to do a great job of bringing Texas Ranger  Laboeuf to life. In the 1969 Movie Glen Campbell played the role and once again like Wayne's Cogburn, Campbell's Laboeuf was more a reflection of Campbell than the character. the fact that my daughters (avoid "Bourne") fans had to rewind the movie to actually realise that the Character was played by Matt Damon  was credit to his acting abilities.

Mattie Ross was played excellently in both movies by young actresses who did not in anyway seem out of place in what are stellar casts. They just like the character did more than hold their own and displayed their true grit.

The Coen's story telling was less linear than Hathaway's. Choosing to start the movie with Mattie Ross arriving in Fort Smith, with the plot being established through a Mattie Ross voice over, where as in the 1969 movie we are introduced to Mattie's character through interaction with her father as he leaves on his ill fated trip with the villainous Tom Chaney. Likewise (and not wishing to spoil the end for people who have not seen it) the Coen's choose to use voice over for an ending that is less Hollywood than Hathaway's 1969 version. Both portray the bond that has developed between Cogburn and Ross and the way their encounter and adventures have shaped their lives. The 1969 movie left you with hope of a continuing family connection. The 2010 movie was 'grittier' but still full of kindness.

I had been told by a facebook acquaintance that true Grit was not a remake. In someways it is, but I would say that it is more a re telling and a remediation of the story with twenty first century aesthetics. A gritter portrayal of the western world, rather than the somewhat stylised west of earlier times. The characters are allowed to be more broken and open. The unforgettable scenes from both movies are there the interplay of characters and developing sense of family are there. The Coen's Mattie Ross is left carrying the scars of that encounter.

The tale is both suspenseful and delightful, hard and humorous. My daughters (18 and 13) were captivated by the film and I got my ironing done.

I guess what moved me in the end of the movie was the way in which the Cogburn character  who had been dealt a hard hand in his life and was known for his ferocity and violence showed love and compassion for Mattie, in such a heroic way.

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