TRUE GRIT (Joel & Ethan Coen, 2010)
Since their 1984 debut feature, BLOOD SIMPLE, Coen brothers Joel and Ethan have tackled numerous genres with dazzling originality, resulting in such fresh, unusual, and intelligent fare as BARTON FINK (1991), FARGO (1996), THE BIG LEBOWSKI (1998), NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (2007), and A SERIOUS MAN (2009). They’ve had some hiccups along the way, but their only true dud was also their only remake, 2004’s THE LADYKILLERS, an unwatchable version of the 1955 Alec Guinness original. Now they’re revisiting the 1969 classic Western TRUE GRIT, which earned Johny Wayne his only Oscar and has held up poorly over the years. For the 2010 reboot, the Coens turned to Jeff Bridges to step into the Duke’s shoes as U.S. marshal Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogburn, an aging lawman with a thing for the bottle, as well as for killing. He’s hired by determined fourteen-year-old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) to hunt down her father’s murderer, a man named Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), who’s also being tracked by ever-faithful Texas Ranger La Boeuf (Matt Damon) for other crimes against humanity. Instead of merely remaking the previous film, which was directed by Henry Hathaway (KISS OF DEATH, AIRPORT) and also starred musician Glen Campbell as La Boeuf and Kim Darby as Mattie, the Coens went back to Charles Portis’s 1968 novel, with the most important difference being the change in point of view; the new TRUE GRIT is told from Mattie’s perspective, including voice-over narration from the adult Mattie (Elizabeth Marvel), which breathes new life into the tired old horse. While Wayne played Cogburn with his tongue firmly in cheek, adding bits of silly comic relief, Bridges imbues the marshal with more seriousness and less hulking bravado as he continually — and more and more drunkenly — tells stories from his past. By going back to the book, the Coens also get to add more violence, especially near the end, as well as a coda about Mattie’s future. While the original featured a bombastic, overreaching score by Don Black, longtime Coen brothers composer Carter Burwell ratchets things down significantly, using the old hymn “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” as his central musical theme. As much as the Coens want the new film to be viewed in its own right, there are still too many similarities to avoid comparisons with the original, but their TRUE GRIT does turn out to be a better executed, less predictable, and more entertaining genre piece.