A tough U.S. Marshal helps a stubborn young woman track down her father’s murderer.
I’m not a huge fan of westerns, generally. Certain notable exceptions have made my favorite movies list, though, including Maverick, Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, Unforgiven, 3:10 to Yuma, and Tombstone (which also happens to be one of my ultimate Top Ten).
Hmmm, maybe I am a fan of westerns, after all.
True Grit is a remake of the 1969 version, starring the inimitable John Wayne, Glenn Campbell and Kim Darby, as well as Robert Duvall and Dennis Hopper. I’ll be the first to admit I’ve never seen the original, at least not all the way through. Even without that firsthand knowledge, I knew the names of Rooster Cogburn and Mattie Ross, which says more than a little about Wayne & Darby’s performances and the quality of the movie itself. Rarely do movies stand the test of time in such a proud fashion.
Naturally, as with any remake, there were the naysayers for this movie, too. To summarize, they all felt that the performances by the 1969 crew were so iconic, so legendary and original that to remake the movie would be akin to sacrilege.
I’m inclined to agree with the idea of hating remakes just on general principles. There are some cases where I wish they’d remake a movie (and do it the right way), but that’s usually when the extant one sucked so bad that it was painful to watch. Especially when it was based on previous excellent material.
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Battlefield Earth, I’m looking at you.
But not having seen the original, I decided to go into this one with the wide-eyed innocence I so rarely get to indulge. And let me say, I was not disappointed. This new version is funny, smart, has great action and is hardly ever overbearing or plodding.
The film opens with a young girl asking about the law hunting down her father’s killer Tom Chaney (Brolin), and continues with us finding out how much of a tongue-lashing Mattie Ross (Steinfeld) can give as she roughs up poor Colonel Stonehill (the great Dakin Matthews) over the sale of some horses. After she’s nearly sent him into a caniption, she visits the courthouse and sees Rooster Cogburn (Bridges) in action in a very funny scene from the trial of a murderer.
Before too long, we’re with Mattie, Rooster and tag-along Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Damon), who’s looking for Chaney on another bounty for killing a Texas senator. From there, we’re treated to a ride through the Choctaw indian nation on the hunt for Lucky Ned Pepper (Pepper – and how fortunate was that casting?) and his gang, which includes Chaney.
There’s a very palpable ‘western’ sort of feel to this movie, which is, of course, exactly what one hopes for. The performances by young Hailee Steinfeld as Ross and Bridges as Rooster are, without exception, phenomenal. Amazing displays of acting ability from both. I found the movie to be a lot funnier than I was expecting, especially from Rooster, who I expected to be taciturn and unyielding in a boring sort of way. Definitely not the case here.
The movie was a little slow in parts, and I was taken out of the story fairly often by the vocabulary used in the dialogue. Too many ‘big words’ that seemed out of place in that setting, though they were used well by the directors/screenwriters Joel & Ethan Coen. I understood what they were saying, and the dialogue flowed well, but it still seemed somewhat out of place. The scenery and cinematography in the movie were second to none. I felt like I was riding through the forest with them, and could see the steam of my breath as the nights got cold.
The one part of the movie I didn’t like was the ending. I won’t give it away here, in case you haven’t seen it, but it felt sort of contrived to me. As though the filmmakers decided that they needed something “big and impactful” to end the movie on, rather than just letting the story finish. It felt unnecessary and pointless. The plains at the end were a good counterpoint for the feeling of that moment, though.
Overall, the few detractions the movie had were far outweighed by the fine storytelling, the great cinematography, and the excellent acting from everyone. I will definitely be buying this movie, and will likely watch it more often than most others. Highly recommended.
“You must pay for everything in this world, one way or another. There is nothing free but the grace of God.”
“I do not entertain hypotheticals; the real world is vexing enough!”
“And in what direction were you going when you were backing up?”
“I always go backward when I’m backing up.”
“How long you boys been mounted on sheep down there?”
“Ain’t but six trees between there
“Who’s in there?”
“A Methodist and a son of a bitch!”
“If they wanted a decent burial, they should’ve got themselves killed in summer.”
“Time just gets away from us.”