Wednesday, January 26, 2011

True Grit (Rhoades)

“True Grit” Gets Second Test of Its Mettle
 Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

     Hey, you can’t top John Wayne. Or can you?
    Wayne received a long-overdue Academy Award for his role as over-the-hill lawman Rooster Cogburn in 1969’s “True Grit,” the western based on a novel by Charles Portis. In it, a vengeful 14-year-old girl hires the grizzled old U.S. Marshal to track down Tom Chaney, the man who killed her father. Who will ever forget that scene of Rooster charging the bad guys on horseback, both six-shooters blazing, the epitome of fearless determination?
Now we have a remake.
Readers of my columns know I’m not a fan of remakes. If the movie was good in the first place, leave it alone. If it was a dog, let it be.
But what do you say when filmmakers of the caliber of Joel and Ethan Coen decide to redo a beloved classic? Well, you’ve gotta sit up and take notice. You have to figure they’ve got something up their sleeve. After all, they’ve been nominated for 10 Academy Awards, winning two for “No Country for Old Men.”
In this case, they do: Jeff Bridges.
Despite Jeff’s being “youngified” in his recent sci-fi film “Tron: Legacy,” in real life he’s getting a bit long of tooth. Aging like a fine whisky. Earned him his own Academy Award for his role as a down-on-his-luck country singer/songwriter in “Crazy Heart.”
And when you see him up there on the screen in this faithful remake of “True Grit,” the shaggy-haired one-eyed visage looks the part of a tough old turkey like U.S. Marshal Rueben J. “Rooster” Cogburn from Portis’ novel.
Portis’ book first appeared as a serial in The Saturday Evening Post, the magazine for which I’ve served as fiction editor the past two years. Editor Pat Perry described it as “a great timely piece.”
Ethan Coen says the film is a more faithful adaptation of the novel than the 1969 version. “It’s partly a question of point-of-view. The book is entirely in the voice of the 14-year-old girl. That sort of tips the feeling of it over a certain way. Another way in which it’s a little bit different from the movie is that it’s a lot tougher and more violent than the movie reflects. Which is part of what’s interesting about it.”
The old lawman is asked: “Mr. Cogburn, in your four years as a U.S. Marshal how many men have you shot?”
Rooster responds, “Shot or killed?”
“True Grit” is one of the rare Coen brothers films to receive a PG-13 rating despite its intense violence. Their 15th feature, this redo is the Coen’s first western (excluding the modern-day “No Country for Old Men”).
This week “True Grit” rides over to the Tropic Cinema for those of you  who haven’t caught it yet, or those of you who want to see it before the Academy Awards.
Movie newcomer Hailee Steinfeld co-stars as Mattie Ross (originally played by a stoic Kim Darby), the young protagonist through whom we watch the story unfold. The casting call described her as “tough as nails” with “unusually steely nerves and a straightforward manner.”
Also we have Matt Damon as Texas Ranger LaBouef (the role originally played by a smiley Glenn Campbell) and Josh Brolin as the villain Chaney (originally played by a scowling Jeff Corey). Barry Pepper appears as Lucky Ned Pepper (originally played by squinty-eyed Robert Duvall).
Jeff Bridges has worked with the Coen brothers before, starring as the Dude in their classic comedy “The Big Lebowski.” He says, “The Coens mentioned the idea of doing a western to me years ago, and I thought that sounded interesting, and then when I got the script and it was ‘True Grit’ I was surprised. Then I read the book and it made perfect sense. It’s very Coen-esque.”
Bridges found the character of Rooster Cogburn fascinating. “Rooster has all these wonderful long monologues – you think he’d be the strong silent type, but instead he’s this blustering boor in a way. He wants to tell his life story and you can’t shut this guy up. Everybody in the film is a talker, and it’s fascinating stuff, really, these lives and voices that feel like part of another time.”
“I read the book to my kid, out loud, a few years ago,” says Ethan Coen. “And then we started talking about what we liked about the book and making a movie out of that.”
Brother Joel adds, “There was a reason I read it to my kid. I thought he would be interested in it because the protagonist is a child. For the same reason, I think it could be very interesting to kids as a movie. That was the ambition from the beginning.”
“There’s something about the story that feels like a Mark Twain adventure,” observes a literary editor at the Los Angeles Times. “Maybe it’s the way Brolin’s character channels the guttural malice of Injun Joe or the way Mattie has a bit of Tom, Becky and Huck in her persona.”
As Mattie says to Rooster Cogburn, “They tell me you’re a man with true grit.”
He is.
So how does Jeff Bridge like standing in John Wayne’s boots? “It never crossed my mind when we were making the film,” he says. “It really didn’t.”
 [from Solares Hill]

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