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March 22, 2011

The "Dave in Texas" Totally Lame Review of "True Grit"

I don't do pop culture very well. As ace reminded me some years ago, "if you don't have the chops".. etc.

So you may consider this the "hey, I don't do pop-culture worth a damn either, but I go to the movies once every other month or so, and I was wondering if I should, cause I remember John Wayne and Kim Darby and Glen Campbell and stuff, and I just kinda wondered if the Coen Brothers 'screwed this up'".

They didn't screw it up.

Some minor spoilers below.


The dialogue and action remain very true to the original movie, with a few changes to kinda "make it make more sense" and stuff. I don't know if that was intentional, I don't know if it's a nod to the former film, I suppose it is.

But if you are familiar with the story and want to watch it unfold in the way you are familiar, you'll appreciate it.

The Characters:

Hailee Steinfeld (Maddie Ross): Great. Even more annoying than her name, and more annoying that Kim Darby, but I mean that in a good way. This was the frontier west, and most assholes who lived there just weren't used to smart, stubborn fourteen year old girls on a mission of vengeance. Hailee managed to portray the toughness and still show you a little bit of the little girl (I'm thinking of her sleeping with the grandma in the boarding house, or asking Rooster "what do we do now Marshall?). She put on the tough, but also let her character be a kid. Balanced it well.

Matt Damon (MATT DAMON!, also Ranger LeBouf): He was every bit as stuffy and puffed up as most people think Texans are.

Also, we are. Shove it.

He was sarcastic. He was whiney. He pitched a little fit about "the kid" and "wetnursing" and all that stuff he was supposed to do. He also pronounced "Waco" correctly. Good coaching.

Bedsides, how hard is it to out-act Glen Campbell? Also when Rooster was digging into his mouth asking him "you want me to yank it out (the partially severed part of his tongue that he bit when he got shot) was a good bit.

I found his portrayal much more believable, and therefore satisfying.

Barry Pepper (Lucky Ned Pepper): Still trying to figure out how this guy got the nickname "Lucky". Stuck me as the weakest of the main figures, maybe it's my Duvall admiration getting in the way, he was believable, and solid, but I just didn't feel that punch when he told Rooster "I'm all shot up" "I'm shot to pieces." (see? told you) He was completely self-serving, and conniving, a total bastard. He did that just fine.

Josh Brolin (Chaney): I think Pepper and Chaney were likely the players who were told "do it like the original". We really don't get to see them for most of the film, so their parts unfold as you expect them too. They're asshole-outlaws. Like me, they don't suffer much from remorse.

I will say this.. there was one line in the 1969 film, delivered by Jeff Corey, after Maddie shot him and the gang starts to fall apart, where he whines like a bitch "everything happens to me". Corey did that better than Brolin, he delivered the complete "I'm a victim in this whole life thing" whine that just outshone Brolin at the same moment. But Brolin gives us the wicked a bit more, and that helps. You see the wheels turning when the gang rides off, and you know he's backed into a corner and it's gonna get mean.

Jeff Bridges (Rooster Cogburn): We all pretty much knew this one would hinge on Bridges. He delivered. I am tempted to offer the same off the cuff "hey, how hard is it to out-act John Wayne?" line, except John Wayne established himself on a screen, over the years. He was larger than the character, larger than the story really. He just was the story, even though he mostly played the same character in everything he did.

So why do I think Bridges delivered? Well, I'm an idiot but I think he played the Wayne-shaped role closely, telling stories for example in that wordy way on the trail into the territory (something Wayne likely had trouble doing), the drinking and the cussin and all. Bravado, and I think this is the principle difference between Rooster Cogburn and all the other players. Bridges conveyed that characteristic of Cogburn from the story, the "hey, I've seen shit, this ain't nothing". He isn't impressed, he isn't easily spooked.

Really the only person in the story that ever spooks him is a 14 year old girl from Ft. Smith Arkansas.

And who can't related to that? Can I get a witness?

The Story, or "Plot" as all the smart movie-reviewers call it.

Look, it's a thoroughly implausible story, which I think is why we all groove on it some. A teenaged girl in the late 19th century American frontier, hunting down her father's murderer, "horse-trading" with a seasoned horse-trader, and compelling these two lawmen to go along with her plan? That's the part that hooks us, this gutsy kid, who knows a few things about life, but the rest is what a fourteen year old kid knows, and in this world that's a dangerous thing.

Something else I think the Coens gave a nod to, and I'll probably get this wrong, or else I'm copying something I heard that resonated with me, in older westerns, one of the main characters is actually the scenery. It's panoramic, it's broad, it's "big sky" country (granted, that is supposed to be further west than eastern Oklahoma, but forget it, I'm rolling.) The mountains, and the trees and the sky surround the characters, and their "largeness" almost overcomes that which makes men appear so small.

Here's a short clip from the trailer.

Now, the new one has scenery and all, but not like they used to do when so many Americans only knew anything about the West from films.

The bit at the end (which I'll let be unsaid) gave the new version some insight, and told the story a bit further. It wasn't a stunner or anything, but I do think it closed in a way that worked.

Pretty enjoyable overall. Dave says "check it out".

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posted by Dave In Texas at 09:33 PM

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