Monday, December 27, 2010


“TRUE GRIT” (Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon & Hallie Steinfeld)

Remaking ‘True Grit’ wasn’t a bad idea in my mind – it would be nice to see what actors that could actually ‘act’ could do with those roles – but when I saw the trailer for the Coen Brothers ‘take’ on the horribly acted 1969 western, I was unimpressed. Most of the scenes in the preview were the same as the ‘69 version – virtually word-for-word.
Still, I was assured that this would be ‘better’ than the original because the Coen’s were going to stick closer to the novel from which it came.
When the film ended, my wife said, “I don’t remember if I've ever seen the original...” And I said, “You just did.”
The trailer wasn’t misleading – this is the same story, same dialogue – Yes, the only improvement is the acting is better – but not THAT much better. With the notable exception of Bridges over John Wayne – but we all knew that was going to be significant.
What I discovered however is that I had been misguided in my harsh criticism of Glen Campbell’s performance as LeBoeuf, the Texas Ranger. In the early scenes, Matt Damon seemed just as uncomfortable as Campbell and I realized, it wasn’t just bad acting on Glen’s part - it was bad acting combined with bad dialogue. Now, something different happens to LeBoeuf mid-way thru the re-make and Damon up’s his performance in the second half of the film – but the problem with this entire project is poorly written dialogue and an unrealistic main character with 14 year old Mattie Ross (played this time by an actual 14 year old, Hallie Steinfeld)
It would be stretching it to say that a 21st century 14 year old girl could speak as eloquently and with such a wide breath of knowledge as Mattie (she knows Latin too!)
but this story is set in the 19th century which makes the character implausible. Yes, it’s cute and clever when Mattie talks over the heads of every adult she encounters but it isn’t realistic. Her droning way of speaking doesn’t lend itself to a child either. I kept wondering, ‘Are all of the children in Yell County this uber-intelligent?’
The only part that worked for me and that would make me say it’s worth seeing is Bridges’ take on Rooster Cogburn – though the character wasn’t too far removed from The Big Lebowski’s ‘Dude’ – Jeff is still fun to watch as the drunken one-eyed U.S. Marshall whose theory is ‘bringin’ ‘em in dead is much easier than bringin’ ‘em back alive’.
Josh Brolin as the ‘coward’ Tom Cheney and Barry Pepper as ‘lucky’ Ned Pepper pretty much say & do the exact same things that the original characters said & did, so why even mention them?
One thing that struck me as odd – In the original there’s a scene where one bad guy chops off the fingers of another bad guy (Moon & Quincy, but don’t ask me which was which) I remember the scene being very graphic as they showed the blade slicing off the fingers. In the re-make, 40 years later, how sad is it that they had to cut away from the ‘gory’ part of the scene in order to maintain a PG-13 rating.
This is another thing that made me leery of this version – If they were really going to tell the true gritty story using Jeff Bridges as the drunken disagreeable Marshall, shouldn’t it have an ‘R’ rating so Cogburn could let the curse words flow? Even though Bridges is entertaining in the second coming of Rooster, I felt it would have been more so if they had allowed him to be more ‘realistic’. I seem to be finding a lot of films that irritate me by not being ‘real’. Some would argue that you go to films to lose yourself in the make believe worlds of celluloid heroes, so I guess that I just go against the grain because I’m not sheep-ish. If you’re going to tell a story about real people living in the real world, then by Gawd you’d better make them believable, dammit!
Famed bad director Alan Smithee had a problem with Rooster’s treatment of Little Blackie at the end of the film – it wasn’t logical for the Marshall not to realize by doing what he did, he’d end up carrying the girl for several miles and she was more likely to die that way. But I’d argue that it made some sense because of how the horse swam across a river with the girl in tow – Blackie, like Cogburn was going to do whatever it took to get the girl to safety. Because of that, it isn’t a bad story – sure, I got emotional watching the tough as nails Marshall doing whatever it took to save ‘sister’ (as he called Mattie, completely dissing John Wayne’s Cogburn who called her ‘little sister’) but then the Coen’s added an epilogue that didn’t make any sense at all and as Mr. Smithee pointed out the ‘25 years later’ span they added meant that Matt Damon’s LeBoeouf was in his mid-to-late 40’s at the time of the ‘trek’ to bring in Tom Cheney. I didn’t mind there being an epilogue, in fact, I welcomed it as something ‘fresh’ but it was so poorly thought out it became a stupid addendum.
One of the biggest jokes in Oscar history came when they gave John Wayne the Best Actor award for ‘True Grit’. Since Jeff Bridges played the role a thousand times better than Wayne, he should be a sure thing to win back-to-back Oscars, right?


movie luva said...

I'm not big on the westerns and I never saw the first film, but I didn't have a problem with the movie. Thought it was quite good to be honest.

I was reading in one of the entertainment magazines that Hailee Steinfeld is a newcomer. True Grit being her fist film. If that's true, I'm highly impressed, especially with Oscar winning/ nominated cast talent.

And considering the Coen's have their own kind of way and tone to their movies, I was feeling like this one is probably their most mainstream. I don't even remember if they have made a PG-13 film.

Terry R said...

Had I not seen the original, I'm quite certain I would have been impressed as well - but all the Coens did was use better actors to tell the exact same story. Hailee was good in that she recited her lines well, but anyone that thinks she gave an Oscar-calibre performance is giving her too much credit simply because she's 14.

dbm said...

I don't know... I thought the youngster was quite good especially not showing any nerves with the kind of talent the film has around her. These guys are seasoned vets, and she handled her own pretty convincingly.
Was it Oscar worthy ? That's debatable. I mean Tatum O' Neal won the best supporting actress at age 10. Jodie Foster nominated at age 12 for Taxi Driver. Anna Paquin won for The Piano when she was very young.
If Hailee got in there in the supporting category, then I don't have a problem.
This is where the Academy needs to bring back the best newcomer award again or best child performance. They used to have it. I figure if you are going to nominate 10 films you might as well bring back the newcomer/child performance category.

blue stater said...

Outstanding. Just saw it last night.
I didn't think it was a straight outright remake though because I rented the 1969 film the night before and the language is much different and several scenes as well.
Hailee Steinfeld is the true star of the film. She really is. Let's face it. It's her film, whereas in the 1969 film, it's dominated by John Wayne and Kim Darby is forgettable. Yes...she should get newcomer/young artist of the year. Though that's most likely going to the girl from Winter's Bone from what I gather from word of mouth. I'd give it to Hailee though.

blue stater said...

I know this is off topic, but has anyone here seen The King's Speech yet ?

Terry R said...

I hate to disagree with you guys... Ah, who am I kidding I love to disagree with everybody who doesn't agree with me! Here's the poop - If Hailee Steinfeld was creating a whole new character heretofore unseen on the silver screen, I'd have said bravo! Great job, kid. But she didn't - in many scenes she was merely stating the exact same lines as Kim Darby read 40 years ago. I've always said the only reason Darby & Glen Campbell were hired was to make lame John Wayne look like a better actor - which they did. In the remake, Jeff Bridges dominates the screen moreso than Wayne - HE'S the STAR of this film & there's no question about it. To say Hailee was impressive BECAUSE she was in a cast of better actors? I don't get the logic there. I believe most actors step up their game when cast with the upper echelon - Take Naomi Watts in '21 Grams' & 'Fair Game' - did she seem like a better actor with co-star Sean Penn than she did in 'King Kong' with Jack Black? When you're in a cast with hierarchy actors, if you don't rise to your greatest level then you're going to look like a hack in their presence...
To me, if you're going to re-make an old film - re-write the sucker, make it your own. The Coen's DIDN'T
do that - they tweaked the story slightly by having the Texas Ranger separate from Rooster & the kid - other than that it's the exact same story with many scenes using the same dialogue as the original. I thought Jeff Bridges was excellent. Matt Damon improved as the story unfolded & Hailee, for a 14 year old was very good, but not outstanding because I didn't buy her as Mattie for a second, I saw a kid actor reciting her lines well & that's about it.
Also, along the lines of a better cast making an actor perform better; in the original, Robert Duvall played Lucky Ned Pepper & he stunk. Was he told to act like he didn't know his lines to make 'The Duke' look good?
Reply if you want to argue with me, but it will be futile because I know me - I'm right on this.
Finally, I'm planning to see 'King's Speech' tomorrow.

dbm said...

I'll just disagree with you Terry. I read the book just about a month before I saw the film and the language is different in many spots in the 2010 version. As for Mattie, how can you not see that it's HER film. It's just Bridges is a larger and more well known presence to audiences. SHE'S the protagonist, not Rooster. It's also HER point of view in telling the story. That WASN'T the case in the 1969 film. Rooster is the protagonist and Kim Darby just served as a supporting player. In the 2010 version, Steinfeld is way more up front in the role as Mattie than Darby ever was.
As for The King's Speech Blue Stater... I saw it and liked it a lot. It's in my top 10 most definitely. But since it has a pretty decent chance at winning the Oscar for Best Picture ( between The Social Network, True Grit and The Fighter ) Mr. Reid most likely won't like it- Ha !

blue stater said...

I went to a popular webiste and found many people that not only think Hailee should be nominated but many think she's the co-lead in the film's just one example from the website

ModernLifeIsRubbish says ...

I was 14 seven years ago. It always blew when, no matter how intelligent you were, a lot of adults (old farts) wouldn't take you seriously. A move-along-junior type attitude.

Haile Steinfeld is the lead in True Grit. Not because the Hollywood Foreign Press says so, but because anyone who sees the movie and doesn't have significant brain damage can see she's the heart, soul, and voice of the movie. Nominating her alongside Helena Bonham Carter in The King's Speech and Mila Kunis in Black Swan is -absurd-.

Would it be sad if Michelle Williams or Lesley Manville missed an Oscar nomination this year? Definitely. But category fraud is category fraud, and saying, "Putting the kid who carried the Coens' blockbuster in the ghetto of Supporting Actress makes room for Michelle Williams!" doesn't make it go down any easier.

Terry R said...

I'd think Modern Life Is Rubbish if I wrote useless comments like that too...
Yes, it's been a while since I've seen the original 'True Grit', but I was reminded of it by the several virtual word-for-word scenes in the 2010 version - I remember seeing those scenes before, I remember hearing those lines before - the scene at the stream where Mattie sees Cheney for the first time - the 'playing chicken' on horseback scene between Rooster & Ned Pepper's gang were exactly like the original film & those were important scenes - the memorable ones. So what if the Coens changed some of the minor scenes or added a few extra lines of dialogue for Mattie - It's the same freakin' story told the same freakin' way.
All these people that are saying Hailee deserves an Oscar nomination (no matter what the category) are simply impressed by her age & nothing more. If she were in her 20's (like Kim Darby was when she played the teenager) no one would be all that impressed. I'm sorry if I can seperate the fact that Hailee was impressive for her age, but not when compared to a 'seasoned' actress giving a truly great performance by 'becoming' her character.
Kim Darby's acting was annoying.
Hailee Steinfeld didn't annoy me, but she WASN'T impressive. It may just be the role - the character of Mattue Ross isn't a believable 14 year old.
As far as Bridges 'seeming' to be a larger presence - he is because he's clearly the best actor in the movie - the most natural, the most believable & that wasn't the case with John Wayne, one of, if not THE most over-rated actors in filmdom.
Then let's get back to the fact that it's not all that great of a movie. Bridges' performance made it fun to watch - other than that, it's kind of bland & juvenile.
My review of 'King's Speech' is coming soon - Now THAT was an impressive film with 2 Oscar worthy performances...