The story of True Grit is an excellent source for a movie adaptation and the Coen Brothers retain the storytelling prowess they've always possessed with their vision of this epic tale of retribution. It still feels like a remake though, with every major event (as well as most of the minor ones) from the 1969 film finding its way into the script. Little has changed, save for the cast, and while the characters are handled well by the seasoned crew, it's unlikely their performances will hold up against the adoration of John Wayne and the original film. Even without comparing the leads between the two, this latest Rooster Cogburn is afflicted with such slurred speech and sonorous grumbling that intelligently written banter is lost to humorously unintelligible ramblings - this vocal setback plagues many of the other characters too. Hailee Steinfeld offers an entertaining precociousness and Matt Damon revels in his arrogant Texas Ranger, but it's nearly impossible not to recall the performances of Kim Darby and Glen Campbell. Perhaps the Coen Brothers' True Grit will find favor with those unfamiliar with the original - unfortunately those viewers have already missed out.
When her father is gunned down in cold blood by the treacherous Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), fourteen-year-old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) determines to see justice done no matter the cost. Searching out the meanest, orneriest Marshal she can find, Mattie hires Reuben J. "Rooster" Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to hunt down Chaney in the harsh wilderness of Indian territory. Much to the lawman's dismay, Mattie insists on accompanying him, as does cocky Texas Ranger La Boeuf (Matt Damon), seeking out his own unrelated bounty on the man, leading the mismatched trio to begin a dangerous quest for vengeance.
The Coen Brothers' newest film is just begging for comparison to both the original novel by Charles Portis and the 1969 film adaptation. It's incredibly difficult to judge it on its own merits considering just about everything it accomplishes is immensely derivative. While this version follows the book closely, the changes aren't different enough from Henry Hathaway's earlier film, resulting in an attempt that for all intents and purposes, might as well have been a shot-for-shot remake. Many of the scenes are nearly identical, and much of the dialogue is the exact same, including the climactic showdown catchphrase which is cringe-worthy for fans of John Wayne's unforgettable delivery. It can't even top Strother Martin's minor supporting role, this time portrayed by Dakin Matthews.
Jeff Bridges' Rooster Cogburn isn't so much a new interpretation of the marshal from the book, but a variation on John Wayne's performance. This is unfortunate because while Bridges portrays a memorable, likeable character, he hasn't really displayed something creatively fresh for audiences. The language used is perhaps more authentic, but resultantly harder to understand, and the strained lack of spoken contractions doesn't flow well with the contemporary camerawork, lighting and effects. The only real improvements are the costumes and props, which were undoubtedly blessed with larger budgets and extensive attention to details.
True Grit is an exciting story with intriguing characters and therefore exceptional material for a screenplay. But it doesn't mean that it should be redone when it was already successfully adapted 41 years ago with an indelible actor that won an Oscar for his efforts. Especially when the filmmakers have nothing new to bring to the table, outside of an alternate cast and bringing back the bookending of familiar characters with detached, older versions of themselves, for the sake of following the novel - a trick that sadly distances viewers from the roles they're accustomed to.
- The Massie Twins www.goneWithTheTwins.com
The Massie Twins are identical twin film critics who have been professionally reviewing movies full time for over 5 years, appearing on TV, radio, online and in print. They are members of the Phoenix Film Critics Society and the Internet Film Critic Society and their work can be seen at GoneWithTheTwins.com