Written by: Russell Davidson, CC2K Sports Editor
Now, I don’t like getting messed with.
And I don’t like people messing with stuff I like.
And I don’t like people messing with stuff I like and messing it up.
Yet some insist on doing just that.
Included in this group are the Coen Brothers, American filmmakers of the highest order. You see, back in 2004 they took one of my all-time favorite movies, the Ealing Studio classic The Ladykillers, and remade it. It stunk. I didn’t like it. No one really did. Some things just shouldn’t be messed with.
So here they come again, doing their version of ANOTHER of my all-time faves, True Grit.
The Coen’s are, without question, talented. National treasures, really. The Big Lebowski, Barton Fink and Fargo are stone-cold classics. Others, like The Hudsucker Proxy, No Country For Old Men, and Burn Before Reading are entertaining and interesting. A few, such as O Brother Where Art Thou? and the aforementioned The Ladykillers, bite. But then, no one’s perfect. But then, True Grit the book, and the 1969 film adaptation that followed, nearly are. And this is what the Coen’s have now tackled.
It’s a simple story, a story of a 14-year old girl hiring a drunken Marhsall to hunt down the man who killed her father. She insists on coming along as they go off on their mission, and there’s no double-crosses, no ulterior motives, just straight-up good versus evil. You can guess who comes out on top.
Back in ’69, The Duke won his one and only Oscar for his portrayal of Rooster Cogburn, and he was so good at the role, that it only makes sense to think of this new version of True Grit as more a retelling of the book, as opposed to a remake of the John Wayne Western. Either way, though, the two movies are very, very similar. Most of the scenes are the same, with even particular shots matching, oddly. Much of the dialogue is the same (straight from the book). The structure is the same. In fact, the two movies are so alike they could almost be laid on top of each other, with no edges showing. I kept being reminded of that Gus Van Zant disaster-remake-copy of Psycho, a film which had everyone asking “Why?”
Sure, Jeff Bridges, my second-favorite actor ever, behind Brando, is tremendous, loads of fun to watch (just like Wayne). The girl, played by Hailee Steinfeld, is really, really good (just like Kim Darby). Josh Brolin and Barry Pepper make worthy bad guys (just like Robert Duvall and Jeff Corey). Matt Damon is truly awful as a Texas Ranger (just like Glen Campbell). The revenge plot is straightforward and logical. The locales are scenic. But what really makes it all pop in both films is the dialogue, great lines throughout. And for this, we owe the novelist Charles Portis.
Yeah, I love Westerns, I love Jeff Bridges, I love the Coen’s, and I love Portis. So how could I not like True Grit, in all it’s forms?
The Coen’s didn’t mess it up.
But I’m still havin’ a hard time shaking that feeling of “Why?”