True Grit

Paramount Pictures, 2010, PG-13.

 Could a remake of the 1969 classic True Grit, which starred, of course, John Wayne in an Oscar-winning performance, ever top the original? “That’ll be the day,” said one old-timer, channeling his inner Duke. But that day has come. Directors and brothers Joel and Ethan Coen have created a rugged, character-driven period piece that outdoes the original.

Both True Grit movies are based on Charles Portis’ novel of the same name about 14-year-old Mattie Ross’ journey to hunt down and kill the man who betrayed and murdered her father. Hailee Steinfeld, in the 2010 version, has the edge in girl grit over the earlier Mattie, Kim Darby. The man-sized grit is again displayed by the fat, old, hard-drinking marshal she hires—Rooster Cogburn. Instead of the Duke in that role, we get the “Dude” (as Jeff Bridges’ character is known in the Coen Brothers’ The Big Lebowski). Bridges does just fine, as do Josh Brolin and Barry Pepper as the baddies. Matt Damon as a dedicated but bumbling Texas Ranger far outshines the 1969 Ranger, Glen “Rhinestone Cowboy” Campbell.

The two Grits both rely on the formal but flowery dialogue of the book —and that’s a good thing. The Coen brothers capture the 19th-century Western setting with wonderfully rhythmic dialogue, whether coming from the smooth-tongued Damon, the stern Steinfeld or the boozy Bridges. These three actors have crafted an engaging, compassionate and often-humorous band of travelers. The action scenes are also improved over the original, which relied too much on sweeping, panoramic shots.

The Coens specialize in eccentric and darkly comic genre-bending thrillers such as Fargo and No Country for Old Men. True Grit is probably their most straightforward film. Ardent fans might miss the lack of their personalized flare, but classic Western fans can rest easy with this gritty genre piece.

 

Originally published in the April 2011 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here