Sunday, January 16, 2011

True Grit

No doubt about it, pilgrim, this movie is gonna split the herd when it comes to whether it's a good idea or not.

I know when I first heard about it I wasn't exactly thrilled, but when I discovered the Coen Brothers and Jeff Bridges were attached to the project, hope began to rise.

My wife and son went with me to see the movie the week it came out.  Neither of them had seen the original John Wayne version of the Charles Portis novel.  Purists of the novel had sometimes faulted the 1969 movie for not being more faithful to the book.  The movie leans more heavily on the character of Rooster Cogburn (John Wayne).

The Coen Brothers adaptation places the story firmly into the voice of Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld, who turns in a fantastic performance).  The audience sees the other characters through her eyes and her eyes only, and she doesn't know what anyone else is doing offstage.  Personally, I really enjoyed this take, though I doubt many other viewers will have noticed that.

Another thing I truly enjoyed was the richness of the language.  Even the bad guys spoke well.  I don't know if the Old West was truly like that, but I like to imagine that it was.  People forget that in those time most entertainment was an oral tradition.  A person had to speak well if he or she was going to be understood and listened to.

The action in the film is toned down to PG-13, something kind of rare for the Coen Brothers.  But I think the decision was a wise one.  This way the film can be enjoyed across the board, and parents who loved Westerns as kids can take their kids to the  movie without risking shock exposure.  Despite this guideline, the violence is still abrupt and attention-getting.  These are hard times and hard men, and Mattie is caught up in the middle of everything she initiated.

I loved the John Wayne film, the posturing and the posing and the tough guy attitude.  But this True Grit offers a lot of new experiences for fans of that first film.  Purists may groan and gripe, but I loved it and am going to buy it when it comes out on DVD.  This is one of those movies that I'll watch again and again.

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