Hailee Steinfeld and Jeff Bridges in Joel and Ethan Coen’s True Grit

“You must pay for everything in this world, one way and another. There is nothing free except the grace of God.” – Mattie Ross, True Grit

In a film bubbling with humor and adventure yet shot through with a bracing melancholy, Joel and Ethan Coen have perfectly captured Charles Portis’ beloved novel True Grit while still making a film uniquely their own. The Coen stamp is subtler than it is with their original creations, but it is readily apparent and most welcome – a perfect fit for the material. Those who are only familiar with their body of work might be surprised to find that they have made a family film, while those who only know the story through the 1969 John Wayne movie might be surprised by the novel’s dark streak. That somber cast remains intact in the film translation and it is this quietly dawning sobriety that elevates True Grit from simple entertainment into something more substantial.

Mattie Ross is a prim, determined young Arkansan with a confidence that belies her 14 years. She has traveled to the frontier outpost of Fort Smith to claim the body of her murdered father and to see his killer Tom Chaney brought to justice. Chaney has fled the jurisdiction of local law enforcement so Mattie turns to the meanest, toughest Deputy US Marshal she can find: a grizzled, big-talking, drunkard named Rooster Cogburn with one eye and two trigger fingers. With the promise of reward, and perhaps because he takes a shine to this spunky little girl, Rooster agrees to track Chaney into dangerous Indian Territory. Making the unlikely pair an even unlikelier trio is La Boeuf, an arrogant young Texas Ranger who has been tracking Chaney himself for the murder of a US senator back home.

The key to True Grit is newcomer Hailee Steinfeld who stars as Mattie and appears in just about every scene. 13 at the time of filming, Steinfeld perfectly registers the innocence befitting Mattie’s age, but also a poise born both of Mattie’s confidence in her own ability and a naivety about the very real dangers she’s in. With an unexpected self-possession that calls to mind a young Jodie Foster, Steinfeld is as convincing riding a horse, shooting a gun or sparring with her elders as she is with her eyes teared up in frustration, sadness or shock at the horrors of the world. There’s a little bit of Fargo’s Marge Gunderson in her. She’s tough and smart, but it’s a hard world outside of her civilized bubble and venturing into that world changes her in fundamental ways. When Mattie says early in the film that you must pay for everything in this world, you assume she’s talking about justice. It turns out though that even justice itself takes its toll and Mattie will pay dearly for it. Though she comes away wiser, she’s also a little bit sadder and she’ll never be quite the same.

With every Coen film, one of the hurdles for the actors is their trademark stylized dialogue. It’s toned down here some and is more reflective of the odd almost biblical formality of the novel’s language than it is the usual Coen flights of linguistic fancy, but it’s still unnatural and it takes a special actor who gets it. Steinfeld is definitely that actor. Delivering her lines rapid fire and without hesitation, she rattles off her dialogue as though it’s normal modern conversation while still allowing the vitality of the music behind the words to shine through. There’s a rhythm and a spare poetry to the conversations and Steinfeld executes her readings with the skill of seasoned professional.

We already know that Jeff Bridges gets Coen-speak based on his iconic performance in The Big Lebowski, but the question on everyone’s mind is whether The Dude can match The Duke as Rooster Cogburn. Rightly or wrongly, this is John Wayne’s Oscar-winning performance and comparisons are inevitable. Well, forget about them. While taking nothing away from Wayne, Jeff Bridges makes Cogburn his own. This is a characterization much closer to Portis and less reliant on a famous actor’s iconic status. In the novel, Cogburn is dirty, sleazy and more than a little disreputable and Bridges wallows gleefully in this human muck. Regarding the world through one blurry, steel gray eye, he’s a broken down mess of a man to whom you would not entrust your child for a trip to the drugstore let alone into Indian Territory, but in him Mattie sees her best chance at finding retribution. It turns out there’s still a fire and a humanity in him and both are rekindled by this tough young girl. In him she finds the retribution she seeks and in her he finds a kind of redemption he didn’t know he needed.

Though Steinfeld and Bridges are terrific on their own, there is also a fantastic chemistry between them. Their characters are complete opposites, yet they need and seem to like each other even as they find the other infuriating. Whether it’s Mattie rolling Cogburn’s cigarette as she might have for her own father or Cogburn taking a stand to protect Mattie from danger, there are lots of little character moments that show their growing bond and it’s not hard to imagine the camaraderie between the characters existing between the actors as well.

Rounding out the main cast is Matt Damon as the cocky Texas Ranger La Boeuf. Damon has already proven through his work in Steven Soderbergh’s The Informant! and the Ocean’s films that he has a knack for patter and a gift for comedy that makes him a perfect Coen actor. It’s only surprising it has taken him this long to get a role in one of their projects. With a quick temper and an ego to match his oversized spurs, his La Boeuf almost feels like a boy playing at being a cowboy. In a way, he has a lot more in common with Mattie than he’d like to admit. He’s a good shot, but something of a dandy and he naturally clashes with the more worldly Cogburn whose stories may be gilded with exaggeration but are rooted in hard experience. Much of the film’s humor in fact comes from Damon and Bridges whittling each other with an exasperated Mattie caught between them. It is this conflicting trio of personalities ultimately that gives the story its drive and the film lives or dies based on the performances. Steinfeld, Bridges and Damon make True Grit sing.

Technically, True Grit is everything you could expect from the Coens and their crew of familiar faces including cinematographer Roger Deakins and composer Carter Burwell. Deakins for the most part is fairly restrained as he works with a muted palette that suits the starkness of the narrative. There’s a hallucinatory nighttime sequence during the climax where he really gets to show his stuff, but mostly his contributions are subtle. Burwell meanwhile perfectly compliments the cinematography and the general tone of the film with a simple score that supports the emotion of each scene without ever forcing it. Though often warmer than they’re given credit for, the Coens are not overly sentimental filmmakers. They never overplay the emotions in True Grit and the contributions of Deakins and Burwell strike just the right note.

The most refreshing thing about True Grit is the Coens’ sincerity with the original material and their willingness to play it straight without ever trying to outsmart it. While a family-friendly western might seem like an odd choice for them, a closer examination fits it perfectly within their canon. This is the work of mature filmmakers who have the confidence they can thrive in any genre wherever they find a good character-based story. They’ve found such a story in True Grit and while they never lose sight of it as straightforward entertainment, they also get at the meat of the original novel in ways the first film version never even attempted. The final result is one of the best movies of 2010.

Also: check out my interview with Joel and Ethan Coen over at Awards Daily.

True Grit. USA 2010. Written and directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen from the novel by Charles Portis. Cinematography by Roger Deakins. Music score composed by Carter Burwell. Edited by Joel and Ethan Coen (as Roderick Jaynes). Starring Hailee Steinfeld, Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin and Barry Pepper. 1 hour 50 minutes. MPAA rated PG-13 for some intense sequences of western violence including disturbing images. 4.5 stars (out of 5)

37 Responses to “True Grit (2010)”

  1. So you didn’t like it then? :) Great review and I can’t WAIT to see it!

  2. Hated it! Like pulling teeth.

    I keeeed.

    Yeah. I’m a fan. I want to see it again soon though. Coen movies for me always seem to improve with subsequent viewings. The first time around I’m always adjusting expectations to reality. Less so with True Grit because I was pretty sure they’d stick close to the novel, and they did. But still. A new Coen film is always the movie event of the year ’round these parts which is a lot for a movie to live up to.

    Tough to say how the rest of the world is going to respond to it. I have a feeling the Coen hard core will be a little disappointed it isn’t more obviously Coen-y, but I also think it’ll play really well to people who don’t know them from a shinola filled hole in the ground.

    I’m quietly predicting it’s their most popular movie ever, box office wise.

    If it gets a pile of Oscar nominations, great, if not oh well.

  3. Very good review, Craig — I ate it all in one big bite.

    Interesting observation about Mattie/Marge Gunderson. I’ve fully expected Bridges to carve his own territory vis a vis John Wayne, whose scenes with Mattie in the original made it possible for me to tolerate his receiving the Oscar.

    If the camera work is subtle, Deakins may be looking at another bridesmaid-but-never-the-bride Oscar moment. (But of course we don’t care about such trivialities, do we?)

  4. I can’t wait to see this. Thanks for reviewing!!

  5. Seriously. Deakins not having an Oscar is crazy.

    I can’t say for sure, but I predict you’ll enjoy the movie Pierre. It depends a lot on your expectations. Whatever you think of the overall movie, I’ll be surprised if you at least don’t go for Ms. Steinfeld.

    Thanks for stopping by Brittani. I hope you love it. Come back and let me know what you thought after you see it, for better or for worse.

  6. Well, it’s the one film left in 2010 that I am really excited about, and I’ll get my chance in the middle of the upcoming week. Your measured excitement doesn’t betray your obvious affection for the Coens, and your assertion here that it rises well above entertainment level.

    The four-and-a-half star rating means it’ll make your Top 5, but will not be the #1 choice. Still this is as favorable a review as you’ve penned all year.

  7. Sam, if you take the whole Juliano clan to this one, I hope the kids like it, especially the girls. Mattie is a terrific character.

  8. Aye Craig, that Mattie is a spunky one, and I do anticipate the girls loving it. We’re all in!

    BTW, first we had your terrific review. And today we have another great one from LIC’s own Jennifer Boulden:

    http://wondersinthedark.wordpress.com/2010/12/17/coen-brothers-true-grit-is-story-of-opposites-thrown-together/

  9. It’ll be interesting to see if “modern” kids go for it. I wonder if it’s a bit old fashioned. For me that was one of its charms, but I’m not a little kid.

    Thanks for linking the typically excellent review from Mrs. Boulden. Needless to say I agree with her 100%

  10. Great review Craig. Another person’s opinion I respect saying that True Grit is a winner. I’m so looking forward to this film. I’m a hardcore Coen Brothers fan who wouldn’t mind them changing it up a little. Its good to occasionally break away from a certain comfort zone. Just 5 more days.

  11. Thanks for stopping by to comment Maurizio. I think you’ll be happy with it. As I said elsewhere, it’s not as aggressively Coenesque as some people might be expecting, but I can’t think of a pair of filmmakers more suited to this material.

    Stop back after you see it and let me know what you thought!

  12. (Editor: I copied Sam’s True Grit comment over from another thread)

    I saw TRUE GRIT last night with my full delegation, which included two older cousins and a close friend.
    All in all I must say this is an exceedingly well made film, and fully deserving of the stellar appraisal given by both Craig and Jennifer Boulden. (who both were inspired to write justly celebrated reviews at three different sites).
    Yeah, it’s true that audience love for John Wayne couldn’t be equalled by Jeff Bridges’s (nonetheless crusty and charismatic turn) hence Cogburn may forever be Wayne’s part, but where this new TRUE GRIT excels is in the breathtaking cinematography by Roger Deakins, and the amazing craftsmanship across the board. The writing is engaging, the spunky performance by young Hailee Steinfeld (yes as Craig speculated, my two daughters, 14 and 9 really adored her character) is one of the year’s finest supporting turns -although it’s really a lead when you think about it- and she certainly has eclipsed Kim Darby.
    Is it really a typical Coen film, and do I see the “dark” and “funny” qualities that Ari (above) sees? To be honest I didn’t find that, but I wasn’t really expecting any drastic alteration of the source material. The Coens are entitled to enter the mainstream once in a while, and their cinematic conformity here didn’t turn out to be a bad thing at all.
    Hence, if I was shown this film in a screening room, and didn’t know beforehand who directed it, I don’t think I’d be able to come up with the Coens, though there are some hints in the framing and some of the compositions. The fact that the sensibilities match up is more a case of their finding the right material for their particular kind of cinema.
    Bottom line is that it’s an exceptional, often breathtaking film, with spectacular work again by that man – Roger Deakins.
    For me it’s a 4 or a 4 1/2 of five.

  13. Just a couple of thoughts on your response Sam. Wayne is very nearly terrible in the original film. I mean he’s fine as John Wayne, but he’s terrible as Rooster Cogburn. Jeff Bridges overdoes it a little bit, but it works and he’s fantastic. I don’t ever need to watch the 1969 version again.

    Also, I think this is very much a Coen film. It’s more sincere than some of their films, but it’s of a piece with No Country, Fargo and several others.

  14. “Wayne is very nearly terrible in the original film. I mean he’s fine as John Wayne, but he’s terrible as Rooster Cogburn.”

    OK Craig on that point I must part company with you. I am no major John Wayne fan, but he was endearing, full-bodied and he enlisted audience sympathies far more persuasively than Bridges did (even though in a technical sense Bridges were more accomplished as an actor). But this is one time you must throw all the technical acumen out the window. Wayne was Wayne, but he was also Rooster, and the long affinity that wed this iconic actor to one of his most celebrated roles forged a bond that can NEVER be broken, whether it be the Coens, Darren Aronofsky, Martin Scorsese or Terrence Malick at the helm.

    To think otherwise in my estimation is a desecration of the cinematic ideals we (or at least I) hold sacred. The fact that Wayne won an Oscar for the role in a year of Voight and Hoffman is top form has unfortunately in some circles diminished a performance that in its own right weds a singular charisma and style to a role that I feel has been enhanced rather than diminished by that inhabitance. Hathaway’s TRUE GRIT does lack the Coens’ technical bravado and the gleeful complicity of Roger Deakins, but it has the Duke and a deeper emotional resonance.

    I still don’t agree that this is necessarily a Coens film. By the very nature of what it is, and in the comparatively tame way it’s transcribed here I think it plays neutral on a number of fronts. FARGO and NO COUNTRY by far exhibited far more of the Coens persona, as did LEBOWSKI, BROTHER, MILLER’S, BLOOD SIMPLE and BARTON FINK.

    The bottom line is that this new TRUE GRIT is undeniably an excellent film.

  15. Ok here’s the thing. I saw Wayne’s True Grit again right after reading the book. I realize that the movie is not the book, but the movie botched the book and Wayne’s version of the character is part of the reason.

    The performance is only considered iconic because it’s Wayne and because he won a token Oscar for it. It was a career achievement award if I’ve ever seen one. He didn’t just beat Hoffman and Voigt, he beat Burton and O’Toole for goodness sakes! But this isn’t about Oscar. I dont mark the performance down because of Oscar, but it’s not fair to lift it up because of Oscar either.

    I love John Wayne in all of his John Ford westerns. I love Stagecoach. The Searchers is fantastic. He’s great in Hawks too except for that movie with the goddamn elephant.

    His Rooster Cogburn is entertaining enough in that John Wayne way, but he’s way too much the American hero to fit the part and give it the juice it needs to make for an excellent movie. He’s a Disneyfied version of the character from the book.

    Yes, people love that version of Rooster Cogburn because they love The Duke, and that’s fine, but Bridges mops the floor with him.

  16. Bridges does mop the floor with him as far as acting skills. But there is an emotional investment that always wed Wayne’s iconic status at a time he was riding off into the sunset with an elegiac final role and performance that defined his decades in western cinema. In that overriding sense Bridges could not match him by a long shot. Not in audiences affections, not in the hammy fabric of the character, nor ultimately what this role has long become associated with.

    I say Wayne made Rooster what he has become known as today. Your entire argument here (the Disneyfied version of the book and all that) is fine, and there are many others who agree with it. But I never bought the idea that Wayne’s performance was remotely frivilous or to be dismissed in the shadow of all those great performances that year. Was it the very best that year?

    Perhaps not.

    Was it arguably in a league with those others at least?

    I say yes. Not in technical skill, but with intangibles.

    I judge material like this in large measure by an emotional response that takes in talent, style and those infernal “intangibles.” Wayne definitely wins on the last count, and for me that wins out in this case. But again, that’s me.

  17. Like I said, I really like Wayne. It’s not fair to compare him to post-Brando movie stars because they’re two entirely different creatures, and that’s fine. I just regret that most people know True Grit from the 1969 movie version and not the novel which is terrific and surprisingly different considering they keep 90% of the plot. They totally ruin the ending, but for the most part the beats remain the same, but the all important tone is completely lost and the complexity of the relationship between Rooster and Mattie is ruined.

    There IS no relationship. Both characters are single notes and Wayne hogs all the attention because of his iconic status. You never once distrust him because he’s John Wayne. Mattie is never in any palpable danger because you know The Duke will save her because he’s The Duke.

    It’s not really about Wayne or whether Wayne is any good. It’s not his fault really. He does what’s asked of him and he does a fine job of it, it’s just totally wrong for the story and it takes a simple, but nuanced coming of age story and turns it into a cartoon.

  18. Craig:

    Henry Hathaway (God rest his soul) is not the Coen brothers! Ha! Of this there can be no question. Still, he was a competant director who actually did make a few very good films, like the celebrated noir, NIAGARA with Marilyn Monroe, the minor classic THE LIVES OF A BENGAL LANCER, and perhaps his finest film, the noir CALL NORTHSIDE 777. And there are certainly fans for THE SONS OF KATIE ELDER and HOW THE WEST WAS WON. Ironically he will always be best-remembered for his direction of TRUE GRIT as a result of the Wayne legend.

    I guess it’s your view of the original film as a “cartoon” that what is creating the impasse here. I didn’t quite see it that severely, though I’ll admit the tone was night and day with the re-make. Hathaway and script writer Marguerite Roberts had artistic license to approach and/or refine and alter Porter’s novel the way they saw fit, and what they came up with, though hardful faithful to the temper, managed in it’s own way to create a film that remains fondly remembered for John Wayne’s performance, one of the actor’s most beloved characters-painted with that singular charisma, and a film that found it’s way to the human heart. For all the superior craftsmanship of the Coens film, I felt Hathaway’s film connected more resonately.

    But heck, I decided only a half hour or so that I am going with a 4 1/2 star rating rather than a 4. It’s too strong a film to take a star away from. So I am proud to be sitting here with Craig and Jennifer, both of whom, I believe went with that rating.

  19. I guess I’m not really arguing Coen vs. Hathaway or Bridges vs. Wayne. In the end they really are 4 different animals and each one is perfectly valid. My issue is the first film as it compares to the book. It’s comparing apples to oranges in many ways, but to my mind if you’re going to adapt something and keep the title, you have a responsibility to adhere to the tone and the themes above all else. You can mess with plot and even combine characters, but if you’re not going to remain true to what the book is ultimately about, why bother?

  20. Well, from that standpoint, I can’t argue. I could counter by saying fidelity in this instance is besides the point, but it’s what matters each to each viewer. The discussion here has been excellent, and we both stand behind the contention that the Coens’ brothers film is a masterful achievement.

  21. I’ve read the book a number of times, and I’ve seen the 1969 film countless times, and I don’t think Hathaway’s film “botched the book.” It actually includes more of the dialogue from the book, and it delivers it realistically and touchingly. The Coens may end their movie in the same way the novel ends, but the ending in the 1969 film captures the same elegiac sadness.

    Also, Jeff Bridges does not wipe the floor with John Wayne. I admire Bridges, but I also admire Wayne who had great presence, an excellent sense of timing, an ability to say worlds with a look or a body posture, a knack for comedy, and a wonderful ability to create a poignant moment with his dramatic spacing of words and his period-authentic intonation. Sorry, even considering all the B-movies John Wayne appeared in, just going through the motions, Bridges does not wipe the floor with John Wayne.

  22. I’m completely in the bag for the Coens, so I can’t really compare one Cogburn performance to another but I do think this new film is far superior to the original. I’ve seen the original True Grit twice and never found it all that interesting. All the performances are good and the narrative is very similar to this new version, but the film itself feels very shallow and superficial, as though its afraid to seriously examine the very story elements it’s sprung from.

    The Coens have indeed crafted their most family-friendly film, but this apple certainly hasn’t fallen far from the tree. Many of the same themes that permeate No Country and Fargo can be found here: the search for meaning in a world of violence and malevolence, the abiding sense of justice vs lawlessness.

    While the weirdness of a typical Coen film was missing (short of one particular character late in the picture), their visual and narrative style is apparent through-out. And I doubt many other directors could have so easily worked in so much of Portis’ original dialogue without making it sound showy or oft-putting, but once again the Coens have adapted someone else’s dialogue perfectly with their own.

    The most striking aspect of the film is Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie. She is really impressive here and holds her own against some of the strongest screen personnas in the business today. Move over, everybody, because this girl has a career ahead of her if True Grit is any indication.

  23. OK Hokahey, I’ll at least agree that Bridges and Wayne are apples and oranges and comparing them is pointless. I’ll also agree that Wayne has a stature that Bridges doesn’t have. At the same time, I prefer this modern version of the film to Hathaway. I think it was botched in a number of ways and not just the ending:

    1) casting a 20-something as a 14-year-old. Darby does her best, but it’s not convincing and it robs the story of some of its power.
    2) Glen Campbell. Enough said.
    3) Making the movie more about Rooster than Mattie. Because of this, I’d actually argue that Bridges not being an icon in the new version is a benefit. This should be a story told from the perspective of a little girl.
    4) And I still think the ending was wrong-headed. Rooster lives. Mattie keeps her arm. There’s no sense she’s at all changed by her experience or that she grows up to be a spinster.

    Sure, the plot points except the end are extremely close and much of the dialogue remains intact, but the tone is totally different and for me it’s disagreeable.

    That’s not to say True Grit 1969 is a bad film, it’s just not for me.

    Joel, it’s amazing to me how good of a fit this material is for the Coens. If I hadn’t read the book, I’d have assumed they hatched it all. It’s not aggressively idiosyncratic, but if fits right in their wheelhouse as though they sat down to make a Mainstream Coen picture.

    And yeah, Hailee Steinfeld is terrific.

  24. Also, sorry I sounded so grouchy there.

    I appreciate your position Hokahey and I’m happy you dropped by to express it.

    I think some of my resistance to Hathaway’s True Grit is that ever since the Coens announced it as their next project (I’m a massive Coen fan in case you hadn’t guessed), there has been a lot of push back from Wayne fans who didn’t understand that the Coens were going back to the book and not the film.

    I’d only ever seen the movie before and only picked up the book when I found out it was going to be a Coen film. I was surprised at how different it was from the 1969 version.

    In the end, Hathaway made the film he wanted to make and I should probably just let it stand on its own.

  25. Craig – Thanks so much for your responses. I appreciate them. I enjoyed the Coens’ True Grit and I’m happy not making comparisons. At my blog I reviewed the film without any comparisons to Hathaway’s film.

    And I also understand being turned off by the umbrage that arose because the Coens wanted to do another adaptation of the novel. But, funny thing is, many of the scenes in both movies are identical, and the greater percentage of the dialogue in both films is identical because they are BOTH very faithful to the novel. In many of the scenes, I knew exactly what was going to be said next Actually, the Coens mess with the chronology of some of the dialogue – while the 1969 version doesn’t – and the 1969 version also includes scenes from the novel absent from this new film.

    But you are totally right about Glen Campbell! However, I feel the movie is as much about Mattie as Rooster – and also totally about their developing relationship.

    4) And I still think the ending was wrong-headed. Rooster lives. Mattie keeps her arm. There’s no sense she’s at all changed by her experience or that she grows up to be a spinster.

    I also think you are wrong about the ending. First of all, in the Coens’ film, Rooster survives the manhunt, of course, but then the film jumps forward to Rooster’s death, as in the book. Mattie has lost her arm and is a spinster.

    But, for me, the beautifully poignant scene in the 1969 movie achieves the same things.

    It’s winter (death). They’re standing in a graveyard. Mattie wants Rooster to rest beside her. Her thoughts are on death – not having a family, which Rooster suggests she should be thinking about. She speaks in a melancholy tone and it is clear that she has been changed by her experience – that she has lost something. It is clear that she will be a spinster. It is clear that Rooster will die alone.

    And my wife agrees! So there! (Only kidding.) I am totally fine with how you see things here. And, again, I really like the Coens’ film – because I like the story so much that I’m totally open to it and I can’t wait to see it again.

  26. “many of the scenes in both movies are identical” You’re so right. I was actually surprised to learn that the iconic “fill your hands” scene and dialogue came verbatim from the book. Not surprising then that the Coens didn’t shy away from it.

    I will watch the ending of the 1969 film again soon. If I’m not mistaken, they actually recruited Portis to write it. Don’t quote me on that with out at least doing a google search, but I could swear I read that.

    Anyway, ultimately you’re right that both movies need to be judged on their own merits and that applies to fans as well as detractors.

    Thanks so much for stopping in to share your dissenting opinion on the matter.

    I’d encourage everyone to head over to Hokahey’s blog to have a look another excellent True Grit (2010) review

    http://hokahey-littleworlds.blogspot.com/2010/12/true-grit-2010-coens-production.html

  27. Craig, thanks a lot for the link – and Merry Christmas!

  28. Cogburn may forever be Wayne’s part

    There’s no doubt in my mind about that. Quite simply, there’s no competing with John Wayne. But I’m confident the Coens were aware of this when they [SPOILER] introduced their personification of the Cogburn character from the exterior of an outhouse. Despite my affection for Wayne’s performance, though (and as I’ve said elsewhere, I thought he was great in his quieter scenes with Mattie), Bridges brings his more competent and broader acting skills — not to mention his own iconic brand and charisma — to the role.

    The Coens should be lauded for preserving a layer of meaning to the story that was in the novel but not the 1969 film version, that being the more balanced emphasis between Cogburn and Mattie. In preserving the novel’s emphasis on Mattie, the themes involving vengeance and the consequences/morality of retribution are better explored, in my view, than in the Hathaway version which, as Craig suggests, is a Disneyfied version regardless of how many lines of dialogue have been lifted from the book.

    To my way of thinking, this new version will not be wildly popular because it doesn’t have enough LOL moments. Girls may like it more than boys, I suspect, because of the strong female character. And this is at it should be. And, because the Cogburn character is more evenly balanced with that of Mattie, Wayne fans won’t have to worry when his interpretation is compared to that of Bridges.

    One of the problems I had with the new version is that I occasionally had trouble hearing the extensive dialogue. I don’t know if this is because there was so much dialogue or because the sound system in the theater wasn’t up to snuff. But I will have to go back for a second viewing to experience the film’s many pleasures.

  29. As I said in the recent watercooler thread Pierre, I predicted True Grit would be the Coen’s most successful picture and so far that’s bearing out. Though, we’re still talking a movie that will be lucky to cross $100 million and not a $400 million blockbuster. Still, for a film that reported cost $38 million I’m sure Paramount is thrilled.

    Back to the comparison between the Cogburns, I think also with the Bridges characterization there is a sense of a man who has fallen further than the Wayne version. He’s actually pathetic. Wayne’s Rooster I don’t recall ever stooping quite that low. There’s a scene where he nearly falls off a horse from drink, but there’s always the comfort of knowing you’re watching heroic John Wayne. I think this dampens some of the power of the redemption Rooster achieves riding and then physically carrying Mattie back to civilization.

  30. Yes, and I think the Coens version captures the spirit of the book in a way that the Wayne version did not. The only “true grit” in the earlier version apparently was the Duke’s brand.

  31. As I acknowledged to Hokahey above, I’m happy to have both versions of True Grit co-existing peacefully. I doubt this new version will ever have the same aura as the 1969 version, but honestly I’m ok with that.

  32. This movie is excellent, one of the Coens’ best. As is your review. :-)

    The cast was indeed terrific. I loved the chemistry between Cogburn and Mattie. And Damon did a terrific job. I agree that he’s a perfect fit for the Coens.

    Also, the friend that I saw it with who loves Colin Firth said she’s worried about Firth not getting the Best Actor Oscar – as soon as we left the theater she commented that Jeff Bridges may beat him. I’m not sure if I agree with that. Tom Hanks won two years in a row so it happens but, as much as they like Jeff Bridges I don’t know that he has the golden boy status that Tom Hanks had at that time. We’ll see. Like I said in the King’s Speech thread I kind of wish they’d given Firth the Oscar last year for A Single Man and then give this year’s to Bridges for this movie.

  33. Yeah I don’t see Bridges beating Firth. I’m ok with that.

    Glad you enjoyed the movie though. That’s the important thing isn’t it? More than rewards? I think so anyway.

  34. It’s one of the best films of 2010 as well as one of the Coens’ best.

    I mention my friend’s comment because we’d had this discussion already and it was really striking to me.

  35. Forgot to mention in my original comment: I had the advantage/disadvantage (depending on how you look at it) of having not seen the John Wayne version (or at least not having a memory of seeing it – I may have seen it as a kid, since my father watched John Wayne movies when they played on TV). I also haven’t read the book. So I came to this movie with a different viewpoint than everyone else here. I didn’t know the story or the characters, so I had nothing to compare it to and it was new for me.

  36. I read the book first, then saw the Wayne movie then saw the Coen version. Generally I prefer to see a movie your way – without knowing anything – but in this case I got curious and wanted to be able to talk about the differences with authority since comparisons were inevitable.

    The Wayne film is fine, just not my cup of tea and in my opinion not a very good translation of the book.

  37. Great western tale of revenge. Jeff Bridges was brilliant. Another Coen brothers ultimate picture style. Recommended also… There is some overacted scenes. Modern cinematography

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