Sunday, December 26, 2010

Not All Remakes Suck

It is a rare occurrence for this tubby trucker to find his butt in a movie theater. Last movie? Star Trek. When I first heard the Coen brothers were going to remake the 1969 John Wayne star vehicle True Grit, well, it seemed almost sacrilegious. I'm about as rabid of a fan of the Duke as you'll find.

But the reviews were good, and one of the biggest sales pitches for me was that most were saying this movie follows the book more closely than Duke's original. It has been many moons ago, but I have read that book. So, it was with some trepidation that Sis and I went to the movies tonight - and she had the same doubts as I.

Let me reassure you right now that this movie is good. It is not the same movie rewarmed at all. The perspective is all from Mattie's point of view - as the fourteen year old and the thirty nine year old at the beginning and end. Does it follow the book? In some areas it does in fact follow the book better than the original. The language and pacing seem more authentic, plus the clothing and general disheveled trashiness of the main characters have a higher level of historic reality. Especially the teeth. The Coen brothers diverge from the original plot in a few places, but overall - (spoiler alert) - Mattie ends the movie with one arm, just like the book.

There are inevitable comparisons of the actor's portrayals of the same characters. First Mattie: Hailee Steinfeld blows Kim Darby right out of the water. She had to - her character carries the movie - where the Duke shouldered the weight in the original. Steinfeld's Mattie is a sharp tongued penny pincher one minute, then she's the fourteen year old talking to her horse the next. Rooster Cogburn may have had true grit, but I'm here to tell you Hailee Steinfeld's Mattie has it in spades as well.

I have to go with Matt Damon's portrayal of LaBeouf over Glenn Campbell as well. When he first appeared on the screen, it was difficult to reconcile the character on screen as Matt Damon. Sis and I figured he had to put on some weight. To be fair, he had a lot more screen time than Campbell, and it would probably be surprising if Campbell could out-act Damon. So, no shock there, really.

Josh Brolin also gets my nod for the Tom Chaney character over Jeff Corey. Brolin was just plain scarier. I'm sure the Coen brothers can take the credit for that - plus it was a different time in the movie industry when the original was made. Blood and gratuitous violence just didn't happen in westerns until The Wild Bunch - also released in 1969. Plus, Wayne probably wouldn't approve - he didn't approve back then. Not that there was much violence exhibited - but Brolin's performance certainly hinted very strongly of a warped and dangerous individual, far more than Corey.

Barry Pepper gets my "disappear into the character" award for this version - it was fairly difficult to tell it was him for some time. He gets my "bad authentic teeth" award as well. He also was portrayed as far more violent than the Robert Duvall character. Duvall's character seemed more sympathetic, but in the end, both left Mattie with Chaney and he had to know she would fare poorly in either case. I call it a draw.

I'd have to say Strother Martin's Stonehill is the best, but only barely. The dialog between Dakin Matthews and Steinfeld is pretty sharp.

There are other of the same characters - like Moon and Quincy. In the original, Dennis Hopper handled the Moon role - but I'd say it is a draw overall. The scene where Quincy "does for" Moon is the most violent in the new movie, but it's pretty tame compared to the wood chipper scene, if you know what I mean and I think that you do.

You may be noticing that I'm avoiding the main character and you'd be just about right. Which one was better? I'd have to say the Duke wins at playing The Duke, and Jeff Bridges portrays Reuben J. "Rooster" Cogburn. His Rooster blusters so much on the trail, you sympathize with the Ranger and fourteen year old just wishing he'd shut up. He really enjoys pulling a cork. Always ready for a battle of wits, he is also equally ready for a gun battle - relishing both. This movie seems to me to be better in this regard - the characters relish their lines. The barbs traded between Lucky Ned and Rooster? Lucky Ned and his cohorts were giggling at Ned's insults. Instead of the grim force of vengeance the Duke represented, Bridges' Rooster anticipates the battle of wits and guns with a smile on his face. He obviously lives for these moments, and both he and his enemies share a love for the action and mayhem. John Wayne was nobility personified in those moments in his movies. Vengeance and justice were something that had to be done. However, Bridges' Rooster and his enemies truly view the descent into violence as something to be enjoyed. Which, I'd bet, is what the Coen brothers wanted us to see.

The new True Grit doesn't replace the original in my heart, but it certainly deserves a place beside it. I will be purchasing the DVD when it comes out. That's about the highest recommendation you'll get from me - if I'm willing to spend money on it again.


threecollie said...

Thanks for the review. I probably wouldn't have watched this, but I certainly will now. I liked the book and liked the original originally, but it has been played in our living room perhaps ten thousand times

Jeffro said...

Y'all will like it. Mattie's sharp lines in the first part of the movie had the theater (plus Sis and I) laughing like it was a comedy. Thoroughly enjoyable.

Jinglebob said...

I had planned to see this at the the-yater, and really want to now. The Duke was always the Duke and you were aware ofg who he was. Pretty hard for him to disappear inside a character. Robert Duvall is my favorite actor and Jeff Bridges is coming in pretty good as a second. Normally I wait and watch them on Pay Per View. I didn't with Avatar and glad I didn't. I always re-watch O Brother when it comes on. Them Coens. I don't know about them. Man, they must be twisted! :)

Jeffro said...

Robert Duvall is probably my favorite living and working actor these days - so I'm sure with you there. And knowing the Duke will always be the Duke is part of the appeal of his movies. He portrays his characters the way they should be rather than how they might have actually been. The Coen brothers are noted for their less than pleasant view of reality.

Both movies do a very good job at hitting their targets, and the Coen brothers refrain from most of their "twisted" stuff! ;)

Earl said...

I am spending money on the DVD when it comes out, and after packing up and out of sight my current too many titles of videos and DVDs, but this movie is worth the time and the money, and all because of the detail. I didn't know Pepper as an actor, thought it was cool his name was the same as his character's but - when I dropped into Wikipedia to check and saw his regular face I was in awe. Makeup should get big awards.

Jeffro said...

I think the first thing I remember seeing Barry Pepper in was his role as the fundamentalist sniper in Saving Private Ryan. He was also with Hanks as the young prison guard in The Green Mile, plus he was pretty good as Dale Earnhardt Sr. in ESPN's production of 3. He seems to be a pretty decent actor.

Lisa Paul said...

So glad you gave this a thumbs up, especially as I know you are the SECOND most rabid John Wayne fan. Of course, I was going to see it when I knew Jeff Bridges was in it -- and I was excited that it was closely following the book -- which the marvelous John Wayne movie did not. But still good to hear it passes the test.

(Bit of John Wayne trivia: he absolutely could not stand Kim Darby and even admitted he just decided to act in his own movie without her.)

Jeffro said...

Second most rabid fan? Snork!

To be fair to the original, the remake does veer from the book in a few places as well - mostly with the relationship between LaBeouf and Cogburn. The Coen brothers do follow the book more closely, IMHO.

Yeah, if you live to see the Dude abide, you'll really fall for this flick.

Most movies leave me pretty ambivalent. This one got me excited.

Kathy B. said...

What a "spot-on" review Jeffro! And I couldn't agree more - that little gal (13 in real life!) carried this movie. I enjoyed the cast so much - and I too am a big John Wayne fan. I especially loved the dialogue - almost Shakespearean! Thanks for sharing - great post!

Jeffro said...

Thanks, Kathy!